The Muscatine girls basketball team came into the season with plenty of question marks.
Throughout the Muskies’ campaign, Zoey Long had answers.
Primarily, Muscatine needed to fill the offensive void left by Alicia Garcia, who missed the season with a knee injury after leading the Muskies in scoring the previous two seasons as a freshman and sophomore.
Despite missing the UNI commit, the Muskies finished right at the .500 mark in both Mississippi Athletic Conference games (8-8) and overall (11-11), finishing fourth in the conference standings.
“I think our season went really well,” Long, Muscatine Journal girls basketball Player of the Year, said. “Our whole team worked really hard and, without Alicia, everyone had to step up in different roles and I think they did really well. We proved that we could be a good team.
“I knew I had to step up with her gone and I also knew my teammates would do a good job filling in the gaps.”
After a frustrating season opener where she was held to just six points, Long established herself as the lead Muskie by scoring 15 and 18 the next two games. Against Linn-Mar, she maintained enough poise to shrug off being held to five points through four-plus quarters before nailing the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to deliver Muscatine a 40-37 win over the Lions.
“We just came off a loss the night before, so we were just trying to prove that we could play teams tough,” Long said. “It was really fun to hit that shot at the end.”
Long’s 284 points scored this season accounted for a tick under 33 percent of the Muskies’ total 867 points scored on the year. With 23 assists on the year, Long either scored or assisted on 40 percent of all Muskie points.
“It was just fantastic to see Zoey come into her own this year,” Muscatine head coach Susan Orvis said. “I think her work ethic and the reps and time she puts in has always been there, but to see that multiply and really fuel her this season was great.”
Long’s 13 points per game was second in the MAC only to North Scott’s Grace Boffeli, who averaged 28.6 this season.
Long was the Muskies’ leading scorer in 17 of their 21 games and recorded 21 steals, 41 rebounds and three blocks. As one of Muscatine's primary ball-handlers, she only averaged 1.3 turnovers per game.
“When you look at what she does for our team overall, she handles the ball, she inbounds the ball for us a lot, she gets us set when we need to kind of regroup and get into an offense," Orvis said. "And I think her defense has really improved too.”
The Muskie junior’s progression through the years has been remarkably steady and constant. She appeared in 22 games as a freshman and scored a modest 4.1 points per contest. Then as a sophomore, that number saw an uptick to 9.6 and she has increased that number even more this year.
One might expect with the increase in volume and additional defensive attention, that Long’s efficiency numbers would take a dive. That hasn’t been the case. Her field goal percentage over the years has gone from 35.2 percent, to 35.3, to 38.4 this year.
From three-point range, she’s shot between 32 and 34 percent in each season despite the volume going from 68 as a freshman up to 153 a year ago and 160 during the 2019-20 season.
In a late-season game against Davenport North, Long set a new Muscatine High School girls basketball 3-point record, breaking Megan Thiesse's mark of 119. That record now stands at 129 and Long still has her senior season to add to it.
“Our group is really close,” Long said. “We’ve probably been playing together since fourth grade … we’re all going to grow from last year, we’re going to put in a lot of work this offseason and hopefully that will help us throughout next season.”
“Naturally, with the point guard position, you’re going to see leadership show itself,” Orvis said. “Initially, Zoey led our program with her work ethic and bringing others with her in that regard, but especially toward the second part of the year, we really started to hear Zoey more. Whether it was calling for the ball or getting people where they needed to be. That was the next step of her growth … that’s something we’re really excited to see continue.”
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