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Lightning strikes as Liberty boys zap City High Red, 42-39

Liberty High’s Ben Houselog is framed by a pair of City High Red Squad players during a freshman game Wednesday, Nov. 30, at North Central Jr. High in North Liberty. The Lightning Bolts won their debut game, 42-39. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

NORTH LIBERTY– Yet another list of “firsts” for Liberty High School were recorded Wednesday, Nov. 30, at North Central Jr. High in North Liberty. The school, still under construction and not opening until next fall, has fielded freshmen volleyball and football teams under the “Lady Lightning” and “Original (“O”) Bolts” monikers. The players attend Iowa City West High currently, but will transfer to Liberty, and presumably continue to play for Liberty throughout the remainder of their high school careers.
Now you can add a freshman boys basketball team, which won its debut game against the “Red” team from Iowa City High, 42-39, at North Central.
Ben Houselog made it into Liberty’s history book by scoring the team’s, and by extension, the school’s first basket, which gave the Bolts a 2-0 lead early in the first period. The Bolts held an 8-6 lead at the end of the period and were tied 18-18 at the half. Sam Nichlaus gave the lead back to Liberty in the third period with a basket, making it 28-27. Liberty kept the lead until the fourth period when City inched ahead, 35-34. Andre Brandon took the lead back for the final time with a two-point bucket to make it 38-37. Nichlaus sank a pair of key free throws in the final minutes to seal the win.
Unofficially, Brandon put up 10 points to lead Liberty with eight from Dawson Zimmerman. Nichlaus, Isaac Bender, and Houselog scored four points each with two points from Sam Rechkemmer, Cayden Dunaime and Corey Baldwin.
Liberty’s “B” team defeated the Red team’s reserves, 12-6, in a one-period game following the “A” team contest. Liberty Principal and acting Athletic Director Scott Kibby credited Dalton Walker unofficially with Liberty’s first 3-point basket.
The game also marked the debut of Liberty’s first basketball coach, Stan Hughes. Hughes comes to Liberty from Washington, D.C., and brings over 20 years of experience at virtually every level of basketball from high school through collegiate as well as professionally. Hughes is coach of the Cedar Valley Court Kings in Waterloo, a minor league team in the Midwest Basketball League. The Court Kings recently won the league championship in their first year of competition. Hughes also spearheaded the basketball program at Quakerdale Prep School (New Providence, Iowa) and led the team to two national championships.
Legendary Iowa City West boys varsity coach Steve “Bergie” Bergman, a close friend of Hughes, told him about the Liberty opening. “He said, ‘I would like to see you have it, because you have all the experience, and you can really help the team and the kids.’ So I said I’d take on the challenge,” Hughes recalled.
Getting the first win in the first game is nice, but for Hughes it’s just another step in the journey. “So far we’re not doing too bad. We’ve got a whole lotta work to do. We’ve really gotta learn defense,” Hughes said. “I do have a great group of kids, I love these kids, they’re a good group of kids. They really wanna learn, and I love that part.”
It’s all about getting better and making the team better, he said. “I tell them all the time, ‘Don’t have attitude if you play or don’t play, you wanna play for your teammates, not for you.’ And that’s what I try to preach to these kids.”
Some of the Bolts have Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) experience, as well as some grade school/junior high time, he said. “We just gotta keep on goin’ until we get it right.”
Coming in from outside the area, Hughes said he’s learning about things such as the City-West rivalry. The significance of Liberty (West) beating City wasn’t lost on him, but doesn’t rank high on his priorities. “I don’t get into the rivals stuff, I’m more about X’s and O’s, making sure our guys are making the right plays, helping their teammates become better players so, I can’t worry about no rivals. I worry about wins.”
Coach Hughes was asked about how the team should be named, and his focus on performing at a high level was on full display. “Right now, we haven’t even gotten that far yet (to worry about what a newspaper reporter calls them),” he said. “When we start winning like I like to win, then I’d say we’re the Lightning BOLTS. Not just the ‘Lightning’ or the ‘Bolts.’ Let’s just call them ‘Rain’ right now,” he said laughing. “Let’s just say ‘Rain’ until we get to the Lightning and the Bolts.’
Having the first basketball team for Liberty also doesn’t faze Hughes. “For me, I really don’t look at none of that. I’m not a person who gets wrapped up into that type of stuff. I’m more concerned about growth, discipline, responsibility, accountability… I can’t get into all that other stuff because that takes away from what I’m supposed to do, which is coach,” he said. “I let the people in the stands take care of all that. I’m more so about winning. And I’m about character. And I’m about integrity… trying to turn good guys into greater guys.” It’s a matter of taking a group of young men, who haven’t really found themselves yet, he said, and learning and getting better. “I would like to be a force, I would love for Liberty to be like West. You talk about high school basketball, West is the place,” he said. “So, when they talk about basketball, I want them to say Liberty is right there with West. That’s my objective.”
Looking at the historic win, Hughes said, “The monkey’s off the back now. Hopefully we can learn from this and move on.”
Liberty plays Linn-Mar’s Black squad Thursday, Dec. 8, at home (Iowa City West High little gym) with a 6 p.m. tip-off.