It was a tough act to follow. 

Nicholas Baer, Cole Clearman, Kendall Jacks and Dylan Sortillo were the nucleus of a Bettendorf boys basketball team that won back-to-back conference titles, 49 games and guided the program to consecutive top-three state finishes in 2013 and 2014. 

"Coach (Curtis) Clark always talks about that team before us and how great they were," senior Suni Lane said. "He wants us to keep the tradition going."

After a couple bumpy seasons, including an 8-16 mark two years ago, Bettendorf is back in the state tournament behind 10 seniors.

The Mississippi Athletic Conference champions square off against fourth-ranked Sioux City East (21-2) in a Class 4A quarterfinal at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.

Baer, Clearman and Jack Kallenberger have younger brothers on this year's team — Michael Baer, Dylan Clearman and Mark Kallenberger. 

"Just like any program when you have good teams, other teams get sick of hearing about them," Clark said. "We try to be conscious of that, but it is pretty hard when you've got siblings who were really good and probably feel they were a little bit shadowed by that group.

"This group now gets to write their own history of Bettendorf basketball going to the state tournament, and it doesn't have to live in the shadow of their older siblings."

Bettendorf (18-5) has done it with an unselfish, balanced approach.

It has seven players averaging between 6.3 and 10.4 points per game. In 23 contests, the Bulldogs have yet to have a 20-point scorer in a game. 

Team chemistry has vastly improved, too. 

"There is a lot of leadership in our locker room and we do a lot of things together," senior JMichael Young said. "We're all friends, on and off the court."

It has come with a price — literally. 

Clark said the coaching staff has provided more meals to make certain the players are spending time around each other. 

According to Young, players often sit in the locker room 25 to 30 minutes after practice concludes to talk, listen to music and eat snacks.

"Being around each other so much has really helped us," Lane said. 

It has forced Clark, in some instances, to kick them out of the locker room so he can get home to his family. 

"I've got to give a lot of credit to our seniors," Clark said. "They've done a really good job understanding we may not have been as tight-knit as what we wanted to be the last couple of years. They've taken it upon themselves to change that. 

"When you have that bond, it is easy to be a team-first guy."

The 10 seniors have been welcoming to the underclassmen. 

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Sophomore point guard D.J. Carton admits the transition was difficult at the start of the season, but he's adjusted well to a veteran team. 

"They were always tough on me, and looking back on it, that was a good thing," Carton said. "It has pushed me to be better."

The Bulldogs, seeded third, are driven to make it a three-game trip this week, particularly for Lane, Young and Kallenberger, who saw their football season end in the opening round of the playoffs.

Other than a 14-point road loss to top-seeded Iowa City West in January, a game in which Carton missed because of injury, Bettendorf has led or been within a possession in the fourth quarter of every other game. 

"Obviously, our football season didn't end anywhere close to the way we wanted," Lane said. "We've got to end it right now for the football guys in our locker room and the football guys who don't play basketball. 

"Everybody in this locker room is determined to win. We want to get a state championship for everyone in this community."

Sioux City East has a high-octane offense. The Black Raiders are led by 6-foot-6 junior post Van Rees, who is among the top six in 4A scoring (20.7 ppg.) and rebounding (12.2 rpg.)

"From what I've seen on film, he has just an unbelievable motor that doesn't stop," Clark said. "He has good skill, physical and can go both ways. He's just relentless."

Bettendorf counters with defense and rebounding. Clark's squad yields just 45.5 points per game, tops in the 4A field. It also is the best rebounding squad in the tournament.

Even though its offense has been inconsistent, Bettendorf believes its size and athleticism, coupled with defense and rebounding, can give opponents fits.

"Since we've got 10 seniors, we know one loss and they're done," Carton said. "We'll bring it to the table and get the job done."

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