PELLA — The turnaround is for real.

The progress coach Joe Steinkamp’s Central College women’s basketball team displayed on the playing floor is evidenced by the dent the squad made in the school record book.

In his third season, Steinkamp and his squad ended 16 years of frustration with a return to the conference tournament. And at 15-11, the Dutch had their highest win total in 19 seasons. Steinkamp inherited a team that was 2-14 in league play in 2016-17, but this year’s club won its last three regular-season games to close at 7-9.

Forward Kendall Brown (senior, Moravia) left the biggest imprint. She broke her own school season blocked shots record (79) as well as the career mark (239), along with records for blocks per game in a season (3.1) and career (2.4). Brown also broke the school field goal percentage records for a game (91.6%), season (64.8%) and career (54.4%). She ranks 12th on Central’s career rebounding list (583) and 16th in scoring (889).

Freshman guard Kelsea Hurley (Scottsdale, Ariz., Desert Mountain HS) led Central in scoring (13.5 points per game), 3-point goals (54), free throw percentage (83.6) and assists (77). She ranks fifth in school history in season 3-point goals and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (37.7%).

Guard Emily Hay (junior, Stanwood, North Cedar HS) ranks fifth on the school charts in season steals (65).

In final NCAA Division III statistical rankings, Central was 21st in team field goal percentage (43.4%) and in blocked shots per game (5.2). Individually, Brown was fourth in field goal percentage (62.8%) and 13th in blocked shots (79). Hurley was 61st in 3-point field goal percentage (38.4%). Hay was 103rd in Division III in steals (65).

The program has made steady progress in each of Steinkamp’s three seasons as head coach, but a corner was turned in 2019-20, perhaps most visibly in a 58-56 Feb. 12 home-court upset of Luther College, one of the American Rivers frontrunners. The Dutch then traveled to Decorah in the first round of the league tourney Feb. 25, and nearly scored a repeat before dropping a 58-55 decision.

Steinkamp sensed it.

“That win, for sure, was big, but it was just more of a belief on a day-to-day basis that we are getting better,” he said. “We prepared with a different mindset, like we could win each game we played. It just felt different.”

With only one senior starter, a talented freshman class that featured two starters and what is shaping up to be an equally promising incoming group, sights are set even higher for next season.

“The depth and quality of talent at practice every day has really improved,” Steinkamp said. “There are a lot more high-level kids in our gym now and a higher level of competition on a daily basis as well.”

The Dutch are positioned for a return to the program’s status as a perennial contender. Prior to 2000, they captured six conference titles and made five NCAA Division III tournament appearances, winning the 1993 national championship. The returning players are far from satisfied.

“We ended the year on such a positive note,” Steinkamp said. “But we also think that moving forward, goals and expectations will just continue to grow and just making a conference tournament is no longer the goal. Now maybe it’s getting a (tournament) home game and winning a championship.

“And I think the players and coaches on our team have high expectations. We’re confident that we’ll continue to grow in the years to come.”

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