There are parallels between the high school careers of Amy Mickelson and Renae (Sallquist) Knopf and Mickelson’s daughters – Ellie and Anna Brecht – but perhaps the biggest difference lies in how the two pairs were recruited.
In fact, the way Brookings High School coach Jim Holwerda handled the recruitment of his star players during that 1985 season was unique even for its own time.
“Our process was very, very unique and I don’t think it was very popular with the college coaches,” Mickelson explained. “Jim met with the four of us who would probably be pretty heavily recruited and our parents and asked that all correspondence go through him until after our senior season.”
“December of your senior year is when he would tell you who was recruiting you – I can’t even imagine that today,” added Knopf, who transferred to Brookings from Sioux Valley after her freshman year. “But we did sneak into the office (during the season), so we kind of knew which teams were coming.”
Holwerda’s logic was simple enough.
With his team starting to draw some national attention as it pursued a second consecutive undefeated season, he didn’t want there to be any extra distractions. Furthermore, not everyone on the team would have the opportunity to play college basketball, and, as Mickelson put it, he didn’t want it to be a “letdown season” for anyone.
“That is the one thing I look back on now and go, ‘Woah, I cannot even believe he got away with that’ – and nothing against him. He was doing what he thought was in the best interests of the team,” Knopf said. “But it did hinder our ability to maybe have more options than we would have and forced us to make a decision pretty quickly.”
Less than 24 hours after winning their second consecutive state championship, Mickelson and Knopf headed to Holwerda’s office where 20 boxes overflowing with letters were awaiting them.
“It was pretty overwhelming, because you don’t really know where to start,” Mickelson recalled. “I sat down with my parents and made a list of priorities… I wanted to go to a fairly big city, because I wanted to be able to get home within one day. My parents were very grounded and they were very good at keeping me that way and making sure I didn’t just go somewhere because it looked good or sounded good.”
“It had to be so incredibly challenging for those schools, as well,” Knopf added. “I do remember after finally making my decision, my coach saying, ‘Wow – never experienced that before.’ I don’t know how happy they were about it, either.”
Not unlike Anna considering Omaha for the opportunity to continue playing with her older sister, Mickelson and Knopf discussed signing with the same school, going on official visits to Alabama and UNLV together.
But not unlike Mickelson’s daughters, the pair ultimately decided to go their separate ways, with Mickelson heading to the University of Washington and Knopf going to Vanderbilt University.
“(Vandy’s coach) actually called five minutes before the allotted time, so he was my first phone call. Not kidding you,” Knopf laughed. “He was the first coach I talked to, but obviously that wasn’t all there was to it… It just felt like it was very similar to the program I was coming from.”
Mickelson and Knopf nearly crossed paths at the Elite 8 in 1990.
Fittingly, the first (and only) head-to-head meeting between the Twin Towers would have been hosted in nearby Iowa City.
“There was a bunch of South Dakota people down for that tournament,” recalled Knopf. “(Lincoln alum) Steph Schueler was at Iowa at that time, too, and I think we beat them going into the Sweet 16.”
But for as perfect as an ending as that would have been, it just wasn’t meant to be.
The Commodores fell to Auburn, which went on to beat the Huskies and finish runner-up for the National Championship.
“Amy was my best friend (in high school),” Knopf said. “We did everything together and that was great. We just had a blast.”
“Renae and I had a big appreciation for the fact that we got to play with one another,” Mickelson added. “She’s a daughter who just committed to Wyoming to play volleyball, so we’ll bounce things off one another about sports and the paths that our kids are going to take – I value her opinion and I think she values mine. We have a pretty cool relationship.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .