Poise and grace are not often the handmaidens of defeat. It’s particularly hard for athletes who’ve come to the brink of their ultimate dream only to have an opponent play better and snatch it away.
West High senior Ally Disterhoft competes intensely and isn’t accustomed to failure, and yet when her young team bowed out at the state tournament quarterfinals, she did not curse her fate nor assess blame. With red eyes and a bit of a sniffle she credited her opponent and tipped her hat to her coaches, teammates and school. It stinks to lose, but she had very much enjoyed the ride for four years. Thank you very much.
Disterhoft was named Miss Basketball by the Iowa Newspaper Association, emblematic of the best player in the state, after a stellar senior season that saw her lead the state in scoring at 26.3 points per game, contribute nearly eight rebounds per game and provide leadership for a sophomore-laden team that might have floundered without it.
“I feel truly blessed to have that respect,” Disterhoft said of the honor. “When (coach B.J. Mayer) called me and told me, I was just so happy I didn’t really know what to say. I played with so many great girls and played for some great coaches. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates, my coaches and my family.”
She also was an Academic All-State selection by the Iowa Basketball Coaches Association and the Iowa Girls Coaches Association.
“It was a great year; I had a great four years at West, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” Disterhoft said after the state tournament loss. “I wouldn’t want to play for any other coaches; I wouldn’t want to play with any other jersey on.”
“Ally’s a really special kid; she’s a really special player,” Mayer said. “She’s meant the world to our program.”
Disterhoft is only the second area girls basketball player to win the award since its inception in 1981. Michelle Nason of City High was so honored in 1990.
This was destined to be a different kind of season for Disterhoft. The last two years her team reached the championship game, winning last year in overtime in the fourth down-to-the-wire victory in a row during its remarkable title run. This season she was the only returning player among the top eight, and she was surrounded by sophomores with little experience at the varsity level.
She had been a key cog on the last two teams, the leading scorer and really the one with the basketball smarts among a bunch of multi-sport athletes. But being the one who had to carry the load in terms of scoring, rebounding and leadership was a new mantle for the Iowa recruit.
“I think last year they won the state championship, but they were such a senior-dominated team that she didn’t have to use a whole lot of her leadership skills,” Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder said. “… What I’ve seen this year is, being one of two seniors on that team and being such a young team, they really needed her leadership. They needed her to show the way, and she did.
“For Ally to lead them back to the state championship on what they lost last year is absolutely amazing. But I think that has brought out her having to be a great leader, and not shying away from that has probably been her biggest asset that she’s had to learn from this year. (It’s) the biggest asset she can bring to our team, too.”
Different responsibilities were assigned to her.
“Losing the nine seniors, I obviously felt I had to play more of a leadership role and then also be a little more aggressive on offense and look to make some plays more often,” Disterhoft said.
She’s always prided herself on being unselfish and understanding where the ball had to go to make the team successful. But her coaches and teammates needed her to score, particularly early in the year when players were learning how to play together.
“I think there’s always pressure just being a senior,” she said. “Coming from a very successful team last year I think you always have a target on your back, and you just have to be mentally tough day in and day out.
“I just tried to set an example for the youngsters. A lot of them were new this year, so I just wanted to show them, ‘Hey, I’m going to be tough for you guys. You be tough for us seniors, too.'”
She was that. Her versatility as a player was on display. She guarded 6-3 posts and 5-7 point guards. Almost no one could guard her because few have her versatility. If you guard her like a forward she’ll drive around or shoot over you. If you guard her as a perimeter player she’ll make you pay with dribble penetration or by posting up.
Throughout her career she’s been an excellent free-throw and 3-point shooter. She had to become a rebounder this year, and she did that, too. She was clutch when her team needed her. Her eight-point flurry out of halftime in the regional final effectively put then No. 1-ranked City High away.
“She’s given us more trouble than any West High player in my 15 years at City,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said after the regional final. “She’s probably the most complete player we’ve had to deal with. She killed us tonight.”
As a young player, she had to get stronger and prove she could handle the physical demands of high-level basketball. She did that. This season she twice guarded City’s 6-3 all-state center, Haley Lorenzen, and held her ground.
Every team’s defense was designed around stopping Disterhoft and still she scored points and scored them efficiently. She shot 63.5 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range.
The season was not without its trials as the team had to blend together inexperienced underclassmen with Disterhoft and the only other senior, guard Lauren Larson. But Disterhoft got a kick out of how far the “young-uns,” as she called them, came.
“They have a bright future if they continue to work hard and push themselves,” she said, remaining the demanding but proud older sister.