By Brenden West
Digital Content Editor
---- — CLINTON — On Monday, as was the case last season, the River Queens debuted with a non-conference clash against Dubuque Hempstead. Within the first two minutes of play, Elle Tubbs demonstrated how this year's squad is already a step above last year's 5-17 team.
The sophomore wing slashed into the post for the game's opening bucket, drawing contact and draining Clinton's first free throw of the season. Tubbs then rolled out on the right edge on the next possession and swished a three-pointer to give the River Queens a 6-1 edge. Her early output alone accounted for more points than last year's third and fourth quarters against Hempstead, which resulted in a 57-21 blowout in Dubuque.
Although Clinton still opened the season 0-1, falling 56-40, Mustangs' coach Justin Smith acknowledged that this year's Queens are ready to make more noise.
"They are a much better team this year than last year," Smith said. "They shoot the ball well... I told their coach that they're going to have a nice team this year."
Hempstead quickly regained control as Danielle Wagner's layup at the 4 minute mark gave the Mustangs an 8-6 lead they never relinquished. But even as the deficit ballooned to as large as 20 during the game, Clinton coach Mike Halac said Hempstead could never quite settle behind another blowout.
"I think we're miles ahead of where we were last year," Halac said. "The girls came in and have had a great attitude all season. We want to get out there and compete with everyone and I feel like the girls did a real nice job competing tonight."
-Watch Jordan Nelson drive to the basket for the foul and one.
Jordan Nelson led the way with 11 points, followed by Tubbs' 10. Senior center Erin Wenzel grabbed 15 rebounds, and freshman forward McKenzie Petersen finished with 8 points.
"We're leaving at a better place today than we were last year at this point in the season," Halac said.
Early foul trouble forced Tubbs to the bench, giving way to a 13-0 run to close out the first, 14-6. Wenzel came through in the second scoring six of her 9 points. But every time the Queens struck, the Mustangs answered with a swell of points. Her put-back to start the second gave way to a five-point run for Hempstead.
When Wenzel struck later in the quarter with a tough basket in the post, Wagner responded with a four-point play on the next possession — swishing her free throw after draining a three through contact.
"There were stretches tonight — down by 7 at one point, 11 another — where we just can't quite get over that hump," Halac said. "That comes with experience."
Wagner led all players with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. She was among three Mustangs with double figures with Ashley Dolan adding 11 and Hope Koerperich posting 10.
All of Nelson's points came after the first 13 minutes of play. Before knocking down a three at the top of the key, only Wenzel and Tubbs had scored for Clinton. The basket cut the deficit to eight, 23-15. Hempstead responded again, with an 8-3 run that spanned the closing minute of the half, and the Mustangs entered the locker room leading 31-18.
"I think we were more prepared this year and we just improved from that," Nelson said. "Tonight we were more aggressive and everyone was more comfortable with the ball this year. ... We were able to recover a little at the end."
The second half yielded much tighter play, with Hempstead outscoring Clinton 25-22, and the game ended with the River Queens winning several key statistical battles. They out-shot Hempstead both from the stripe (5-for-8) and beyond the arc (5-for-12). Thanks to Wenzel, they also out-rebounded the Mustangs 31-20.
But the most glaring deficit came in the turnover battle: Clinton gave it up 23 times and forced only 11 takeaways.
-View photos of Clinton's home opener at clintonherald.smugmug.com.
Foul trouble, Halac said, also forced the River Queens into more tentative play.
"We had to be concerned of it," Halac said. "It didn't affect us too much. We had 21 fouls, but they had 15."
Hannah Burken (2 points, 2 steals) fouled out in the fourth, and Wenzel, Tubbs and Petersen tip-toed the closing minutes with four fouls apiece.
Even so, Halac said the River Queens have plenty to look forward to as the season unfolds.
"We're just not at that point today," he said.
The next test will come this weekend hosting the River Queen Classic, tipping off Friday.
DUBQUE HEMPSTEAD 56, CLINTON 40
HEMPSTEAD (56): Nakia Lieb 1-4 5-7 7, Ashley Dolan 3-8 5-6 11, Jessica Brown 0-3 1-2 1, Hope Koerperich 4-15 2-5 10, Gabby Riley 0-1 0-2 0, Danielle Wagner 6-11 1-4 16, Affrica Kimble 3-6 0-0 6, Rachel Bybee 2-5 1-2 5, Courtney Beringer 0-1 0-0 0.
CLINTON (40): Elle Tubbs 4-8 0-0 10, Erin Wenzel 4-17 1-2 9, Hannah Burken 1-3 0-0 2, Jordan Nelson 4-6 1-1 11, McKenzie Petersen 2-8 3-5 8, McKenna Greenwalt 0-1 0-0 0, Halle Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Emma Gettes 0-2 0-0 0.
Hempstead 11 20 14 11 — 56
Clinton 6 12 13 9 — 40
3-Point Goals — Hempstead 3-8 (Wagner 3-6, Bybee 0-1, Lieb 0-1), Clinton 5-12 (Tubbs 2-5, Nelson 2-3, Petersen 1-4). Fouled out — Burken. Rebounds — Hempstead 20 (Dolan 4, Koerperich 4, Riley 4), Clinton 31 (Wenzel 15, Tubbs 6). Assists — Hempstead 2 (Koerperich 1, Dolan 1), Clinton 6 (Wenzel 2, Nelson 2). Total Fouls — Hempstead 15, Clinton 21.