Dengler helps Monte to 1A title

North Tama alum Derrick Dengler (2007) talks to his players during a timeout in the second quarter of Montezuma’s 1A quarterfinal game at Wells Fargo Arena on Monday, March 8, 2021. -- Photo by Andy Abeyta/The Gazette

The boys state basketball tournament concluded earlier this month. It was competitive, and the best part is watching the small schools compete against each other.

It is a point of pride for small towns when they win the title. Nothing is more exciting or provides more energy to a small town than a shot at a state title.

This past year and in years previous, I’ve followed the Montezuma Braves. Their story is as relatable as one can get. The definition of perseverance and what can happen when if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.

Three years ago, they lost in a district final game. Two years ago, they lost in the consolation game. One year ago, they won their consolation game. This year was not easier. Starting off the season they missed their best post player, Eddie Burgess. They started out their season with a couple of unlucky losses. Through determination and help from Burgess’ return later in the season, their last two thirds of the season went well.

Unfortunately, their state seeding did not reflect their tenacity. They were awarded the seventh seed. For a team who consistently rose to and exceeded expectations, they did the same at Wells Fargo Arena. They beat the two seed, followed up with a win over the third seed, and then faced the number one seed, North Linn. The Lynx were most recently the 2020 Class 2A runner ups who dropped down to 1A this season and were undefeated.

This would be a daunting task for most, but for the Braves, they had the talent. In addition to Burgess, they had all-state, soon-to-be state tournament MVP Trey Shearer, Cole Watts, and solid role players.

The players could not have done it alone. They were helped by the assistant coaches as well as their head coach, North Tama alum and my brother, Derrick Dengler.

Derrick loves basketball more than anyone else I know and most importantly, he’s committed to seeing his players grow in all parts of their lives not just basketball. The time and effort he put in to be a successful coach comes from years of practice.

It started from his love of basketball as a child and progressed to his successful high school career. His senior year the Redhawks had the right players, chemistry, and skills to have a decent shot at making the state tournament. As a point guard, Derrick’s court vision was unmatched, making passes and assists no one saw coming. Unfortunately, an ACL tear stopped a state tournament dream and his chance at becoming the all-time North Tama assists leader.

He persevered. After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa, and after a few years as an assistant coach, he became the Montezuma head coach.

Fortunately, he also had a strong group of players coming up through the ranks. While his playing career may not have ended the way he liked, he made the biggest assist of his life last week, coaching Montezuma to their third state basketball title.

This is what every coach and fan wants their team to do. You do not let adversity hold you down. You take a crushing lost from the season before and push past it the next season. You hit new heights each season. You get back up and keep fighting until you reach the mountaintop.

The Braves and Derrick Dengler improved each day and each season. They moved past the setbacks, and climbed to the top. Now is the time for the players, coaches, and residents of Montezuma to celebrate.

As Montezuma and Derrick celebrates, his hometown community at North Tama continue to support and encourage him.

“I would just like to thank the many people who have reached out and congratulated me from the North Tama community,” Dengler said. “There were many texts and messages, and it was very kind to receive those and know the Montezuma Braves were getting support from my former coaches, classmates, teachers and community members who were instrumental in my upbringing. Also a special shoutout goes to my dad and grandpa who got me interested in hoops with ISU basketball games many years ago.”