1928: The Ida Grove basketball team won the state girls’ basketball tournament in 1928. From left to right, front row: Mae Aukerman, Sylvia Rohwer, Carolyn Miller, Virginia Aiken, Dorothy Anderson and Mary Koons; second row: May Iverson, Pauline Lahr, Sarah Alien White; back row: C.W. Sankey, coach; Marjory Anderson, Olive Little, Mary Page and Esther Saupe, chaperone.
Sharon Hanson sits in the girls’ basketball office at Dowling Catholic High School and opens a well-worn plastic bag that serves as a 50-year-old time capsule.
Inside is a world full of state tournament materials, a Pioneer Seed Corn advertisement splashed on one side. There’s a program from 1965, when then-Sharon Tyler played on South Hamilton of Jewell’s state-title team; a scrapbook with newspaper clippings; a tiny pennant with a photograph of Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
The Dowling co-coach finds in the contents musty memories that have survived half a century of household moves and mildew.
“It’s probably the first time I’ve opened it in 50 years,” Hanson said.
Iowa’s state tournament had 16 six-player teams all contending for one championship back then. Crowds of 15,000 people jammed into Vets.
STATE GIRLS’ BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Brackets
When this year’s tournament starts Monday at 10 a.m., fans will welcome 40 teams in five classes at Wells Fargo Arena.
Across Iowa, teams are reliving traditions or building new ones. In the eastern part of the state, Mediapolis will try to renew collective memories of its six-on-six dynasty. In western Iowa, Exira-EHK will aim to revive state tournament glory.
Dowling is back as the defending Class 5-A champion. Co-coaches Sharon and Bob Hanson will try to add to the six state championship trophies they’ve earned.
Current players, like Dowling’s Amber Gierstorf, will soak in the experience.
“It’s so loud, the lights are so bright,” Gierstorf said. “It’s the best thing.”
Jan Jensen remembers her hometown shutting down during the week of the state tournament.
“It was like a national holiday,” Jensen said. “In rural communities, the tradition ran so deep.”
Jensen, who grew up in Kimballton, was a high-scoring forward for Elk Horn-Kimballton in the late 1980s.
She grew up with a reverence for the sport. Her grandmother, Dorcas Anderson, played on Audubon’s 1921 state championship squad.
When Jensen reached high school, she developed the desire to reach state. If the Lady Danes reached the state tournament, local businesses put up signs on their doors indicating they’d be closed.
“I always felt I got to play during a special time,” Jensen said.
Elk Horn-Kimballton and Exira, which won a 2010 state title, entered a program-sharing agreement in the 2011 season. The team is 24-0.
This year’s tournament is the first time players from EHK have reached state since 1997.
Jensen, who said she plans to attend the tournament for a day or two, went on to play at Drake and is now an Iowa assistant.
State tournament thoughts are rekindled every year at team practices. Current Hawkeye players and coaches exchange their reflections.
“This time of year, when you’re in the locker room or stretching out on the court, something comes up about tournament time,” Jensen said. “They all chime in about their memories.”
Channeling the past
Mediapolis was one of the state’s most prominent basketball dynasties during the six-on-six days.
The school ran up a string of 18 consecutive state appearances from 1965 to 1982, when only 16 teams reached the tournament.
The Bullettes — a nickname that lingers from six-player history — wants to add to its two state-title trophies.
Top-ranked Mediapolis enters the Class 3-A tournament with a 24-0 record.
“I think they know it’s such a rich basketball tradition here,” coach Todd Rogers said of his players. “You can’t forget.”
The team made its first five-player trip to state last year. Its final six-on-six tournament squad was in 1987.
The rich history is easy to connect with even though none of the current players grew up in the six-player era.
Star Andrea Larson’s grandmother was a Bullette. So were the mothers of Abby Eberhardt and Darby and Allie Massner.
Teachers at the school include former Mediapolis players.
Even the gym, named after hall of fame girls’ basketball coach Vernon “Bud” McLearn, displays a rich culture of the sport.
Reuniting with memories
Dowling’s Hanson recalls falling in love with the tournament when she saw her older sister play at state.
“I was absolutely starstruck watching that,” Hanson said. “That’s your dream. That’s what you want.”
Her South Hamilton team of 1965 will be recognized 50 years after taking the title.
She remembers the program’s trips to Des Moines, before the interstate connected Jewell to the state capital.
The smell of popcorn entering the auditorium. Attending a tournament banquet and singing the school song. More than 100 buses sprawling around Vets Auditorium on high school basketball team day.
Her old programs and pennants let her relive the past. Dowling senior Gierstorf recalls the scraps of history — basketballs, medals and programs — that will provide her glances at the past.
“You think, ‘Oh yeah, I remember what it was like,’ ” Gierstorf said. “You experience it again.”
STATE GIRLS’ BASKETBALL PREVIEW
STATE OUTLOOK: CLASS BY CLASS
West Des Moines Dowling Catholic won last year’s championship and returns three starters from that squad, including all-tournament selections Becca Hittner and Audrey Faber (18.9 points)… West Des Moines Valley, the No. 1-ranked squad, is a high-scoring outfit averaging 70 points per game. All-stater Grace Vander Weide, a Missouri State recruit, leads the team with an 18-point average. Four players have made 34 or more 3-pointers this season… Iowa City West is led by seniors Mikaela Morgan, a Northern Iowa prospect, and Dani Craig, a Cal State Fullerton recruit… Southeast Polk took the championship in 2013 and was the runner-up last year… Reilly Jacobson, a junior, averages 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for Waukee.
Defending champion Harlan has won 46 consecutive games. The Cyclones (23-0) are known for tough defense, holding opponents to 40 or fewer points in 20 games. Jess Schaben averages 14.1 points and teammate Taylor Frederick is scoring at a 13.9-point pace… Western Dubuque of Epworth was the runner-up a year ago. All-tournament choices Megan Maahs and Rose Simon-Ressler are back in the lineup. Maahs, a junior, nearly averages a double-double with 12.9 points and 9.5 rebounds… Waverly-Shell Rock is unbeaten (23-0) and has held foes to 40 or fewer points 18 times… Ballard of Huxley is making its ninth state tournament appearance in 10 years… Warren County is well-represented, with Carlisle and Indianola in the field.
Top-ranked Mediapolis is making its 23rd appearance at state but its second in five-player history. Andrea Larson is an all-stater who averages 21.7 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. She’s a Wayne State recruit. Teammate Heidi Hillyard averages a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) and is a Northern Iowa signee… Red Oak is led by one of the state’s top multi-sport athletes, Kate Walker. She’s a Bucknell basketball recruit but all-state in volleyball as well… Pocahontas Area features high-scoring Elle Ruffridge, a sophomore who averaged 27 points… Nevada has had great success in volleyball and soccer in recent years. The school returns to the state basketball tournament for the first time since 1968.
Unity Christian of Orange City enters as the No. 1-ranked team. The Knights were state runners-up in Class 3-A last year. Three players average double figures: Anna Kiel (15.3 points), Kassidy De Jong (14.6) and Chanda Zomermaand (13.4)… Des Moines Christian had a breakthrough last season while earning its first-ever state girls’ basketball appearance. Elsa Anderson, the school’s career leading scorer, is among the players back in the lineup… North Linn of Troy Mills has a 23-1 record this season and is averaging 66 points per game… IKM-Manning has two 1,000-point scorers on its roster in Morgan Muhlbauer and Kali Rasmussen.
Defending champion Burlington Notre Dame has gone 23-1 since winning last year’s crown. Its only loss came to Class 3-A qualifier Mediapolis. All-stater Taylor Hickey averages 19.5 points a game… Colo-Nesco is making its third consecutive state tournament appearance. The team showed an ability to win close games in its regional bracket, winning three contests by no more than five points… Newell-Fonda returns after earning runner-up honors a year ago. Brianna Wells, who averages a team-high 12.8 points, is the only returning starter… Central Lyon of Rock Rapids won the 2013 state title and is making its first appearance since then.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
This Week At Wells Fargo Arena:
5-10, Jr., Forward
• Second year at state
Meyer was a driving force to helping her team reach the tournament, scoring 46 points in two regional games. Meyer averaged more than 20 points per game this season, tops among Class 5-A state tournament players. She’s made a team-high 46 3-pointers this season. Meyer was a Des Moines Register Elite all-CIML selection this season. She said she plans to play at the University of Iowa.
6-0, Fr., Center
• First year at state
Berg may have made the state’s biggest splash among freshmen this season. She emerged as Indianola’s top scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. Berg averaged 16.3 points per game while shooting 68.8 percent from the field. She helped the Indians reach the state tournament for the first time since 2009. She is listed as the team’s center but can play any position on the floor thanks to her agility and skills.
5-3, Soph., Guard
• First year at state
The prolific scorer averaged 27 points per game this season and is on pace to threaten the state’s all-time scoring record of 2,756 points set by Rock Valley’s Deb Remmerde, who graduated in 2003. Ruffridge already has 1,259 points in two seasons. She has 107 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 44.2 percent behind the arc. She also has 182 assists. Ruffridge helped her team to a 23-1 record, leading her team to its first state appearance since 2005.
5-8, Sr., Guard
• Second year at state
Miller is the 17th player in Iowa five-player history to score more than 2,000 points in her career. She has averaged 26.4 points per game this season. She also rebounds well, averaging 7.6 a game. The Drake recruit compiled more than 100 assists and steals this season. Miller’s best sport may be basketball, but she’s also a star in track. She ran on three winning relays last spring to help bring her school a state team title.
5-3, Sr., Guard
• Third year at state
Dean averaged 16.1 points per game this season while stacking up big numbers in steals (169) and assists (140). Dean earned Des Moines Sunday Register third-team all-state honors last season in Class 1-A. She surpassed the career 1,000-point mark during regional play. Dean helped her school reach the semifinals of last year’s state tournament and is also a talented volleyball player and runner on the school’s track team.
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL STATE TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
1:30–Valley (21-2) vs. Mason City (15-8)
3:15–Iowa City West (21-2) vs. Southeast Polk (17-6)
5:00–W.D.M. Dowling Catholic (20-3) vs. Johnston (16-7)
6:45–Waukee (21-2) vs. Cedar Falls (18-5)
Noon and 1:45 p.m.–Quarterfinal winners
8 p.m.–Semifinal winners
6:45–Carlisle (21-2) vs. Waverly-Shell Rock (23-0)
8:30–Harlan (23-0) vs. Cedar Rapids Xavier (17-6)
10 a.m.–Ballard (Huxley) (21-2) vs. Sioux City Heelan (21-3)
11:45–Western Dubuque (23-0) vs. Indianola (19-4)
6:45 and 8:30 p.m.–Quarterfinal winners
6 p.m.–Semifinal winners
11:45–Mediapolis (24-0) vs. Mount Vernon (16-8)
1:30–Nevada (21-3) vs. Red Oak (20-4)
3:15–Crestwood (Cresco (21-2) vs. Spirit Lake (18-6)
5:00–Pocahontas Area (23-1) vs. Clear Lake (18-6)
3:15 and 5 p.m.–Quarterfinal winners
4 p.m.–Semifinal winners
5:00–Unity Christian (Orange City) (24-0) vs. Cascade (21-3)
6:45–IKM-Manning (23-1) vs. South Central Calhoun (22-2)
8:30–North Linn (23-1) vs. D.M. Christian (20-4)
10 a.m.–Western Christian (Hull) (21-3) vs. Iowa City Regina (21-3)
11:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.–Quarterfinal winners
8 p.m.–Semifinal winners
10 a.m.–Colo-Nesco (23-1) vs. Newell-Fonda (20-4)
11:45 a.m.–Burlington Notre Dame (23-1) vs. Central Lyon (18-6)
1:30–Exira/EHK (24-0) vs. Bedford (19-4)
3:15–Fremont-Mills (Tabor) (23-1) vs. Springville (21-3)
8:30 p.m.–Quarterfinal winners
10 a.m.–Quarterfinal winners
6 p.m.–Semifinal winners