OTTUMWA --- With three teams making their first-ever visit to the Hellyer Center, two weekend tournaments on the road, plus a powerhouse eight-team tourney in Arizona, the Indian Hills Warriors will be battle-tested in the 2017-18 basketball season by the time they get around to defending their conference title.
The schedule for next season, released this week, includes 18 home games – good news for a program that was 19-1 on its home floor last year and has gone 232-17 there over the past 12 years.
The schools that will coming to play IHCC at the Hellyer Center for the first time include Johnson County (Kans.), in the opening weekend of the season; Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa, who along with fellow Oklahoma school, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, will play the Warriors on back-to-back nights in November; and Harcum, the lone NJCAA Division I school in Pennsylvania, and winners of at least 22 games each of the last four years.
"Our four home classics should be exciting for Warrior fans and definitely a challenge for us," according to head coach Hank Plona. "We will be facing national programs that have all been very strong, as well as the defending Division II national champion in Southwestern (Iowa), and teams that have had recent success."
Indian Hills will go to tournaments in Quincy, Ill., and Moberly, Mo., in the first month of the campaign. IHCC will face Moberly twice again this year after sweeping a nationally-ranked Greyhound squad in 2016-17. "Playing home and away with Moberly has been very beneficial for us," Plona said. "Obviously it is a great rivalry and has been for years, but coach (Pat) Smith has really taken their program to another level in recent years and I expect them to be a top 10 team in the country. Playing in their tourney will be a huge early-season test for us and the game at home on Jan. 5 will prepare us for league play."
The marquee tourney, though, will take place Dec. 28-30 when IHCC competes in the Fiesta Bowl Shootout in Mesa, Ariz., maybe the toughest JUCO tournament outside of the national tourney. The other schools scheduled to take part include Southern Idaho, Salt Lake and Snow from Utah, South Plains (Tex.), Central Florida, San Bernardino, a premier California junior college, and the host school, Mesa.
Plona likes the event for a number of reasons, one of which is the tournament-style format which will give his team a taste of what postseason play is like. "The field is absolutely loaded and no matter the draw we will have three games that will show us what we are made of," explained the IHCC coach. "We will take positives out of it that will help us the rest of the season, no matter what happens. And we hope three wins is what happens."
Mesa will help the Warriors kick off their season when they come to Ottumwa the opening weekend of the 2017-18 slate.
The Warriors have won the Region 11 regular season title outright or tied for the top spot each of the past eight years. They begin league play at rival Southeastern on Jan. 13. "We want to be battle-tested and ready for ICCAC play by that game," Plona stated. "The best way to do that is to schedule the best teams that will play us and we feel like we have done that. We put together the most challenging schedule we could."
Half of the 30 regular season games will be played on Saturday nights. The first game is Friday, Nov. 3, against Johnson County (Kans.).
The 2017-18 schedule can be viewed on the new IHCC athletics website at www.indianhills.edu/basketballschedule