DES MOINES – Sadly (please remove John Deere caps to cover beating hearts) this is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the greatest game in Iowa high school history – The Sweet Sixteen.
For basketball’s unwashed, that’s six-player girls basketball.
Three forwards on one end of the court, three at the other.
Don’t think the unique game didn’t move the heart and soul of small-town Iowa Americana.
Just view the crowds at glitzy Wells Fargo Arena, site of the tourney now for several years.
When Coach Russ Kraai’s No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Siouxland powerhouse Holstein team was stunned in overtime by tiny Goldfield in the 1955 title game, the first played at Veterans Memorial, the crowd numbered 15,000, give or take a few.
No title game, since or ever, will reach that numerical proportion.
In the semifinals, a short-lived record throng of 13,000 crammed into the steep seats and flooded the narrow halls of Vets to watch Kraai’s team evade another upset trap, staving off tiny Royal in overtime to run a winning streak to 30.
Some of the other schools in that ’55 classic were Coin, Napier, Bussey, Donnellson and Grafton.
When those schools played only four or five thousand showed up.
Those were the days.
#The final six-player state tourney, the swan song of the iconic Sweet Sixteen 25 years ago in 1993, included just two Siouxland aggregations, Harris-Lake Park and Emmetsburg.
Three others, Wall Lake View-Auburn, Maple Valley and Newell-Fonda, though, lost regional go-to-state finals.
A significant number of Northwest Iowa schools had made the switch to the full-court game.
One of them, Storm Lake, qualified that year in its first season in the five-player game under the tutelage of Coach Joel Semprini, but the No. 19 Tornadoes lost to second-ranked eventual champ Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the first round.
And, the other five-player qualifier in ’93, sixth-ranked Hull Western Christian, dropped a first-round duel to third-ranked West Des Moines Dowling.
#Harris-Lake Park, making its initial trip to the Sweet Sixteen, had the misfortune of meeting the last six-player state champ in its first game.
Unbeaten Hubbard-Radcliffe, coached by Quimby native Les Hueser, was ranked No. 1 in Class1A and No. 1 overall, prevailed 87-76.
The scrap featured Division I recruits, Hubbard-Radcliffe’s Lisa Brinkmeyer, a future Hall of Famer, and H-LP’s Tara Gunderson, who probably should be.
Brinkmeyer played at Drake and Gunderson tallied 888 career points at Iowa State.
Lake Park qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in 1957, losing in the first round to Clarence.
#The trigger of the tradition.
Interesting note on the 1993 Western Christian girls team, It was making what evolved into a proud tradition (four state titles, one runner-up) with its first girls state tourney appearance under the guidance of Coach Gene Hospers.
The first Western qualifier included 6-2 junior Lisa Reitsma, who went on to earn All-America plaudits at the University of Nebraska.
It was Hospers, too, who coached Western to the school’s first of many boys state tournaments (including nine titles) in 1981. Western defeated Cedar Rapids Regis in the Class 2A first round, lost to Maple Valley and future Hall of Famer Todd Berkenpas in the semis and wound up fourth after falling to Fort Dodge St. Edmond in the overtime consolation.
#There’s a true family affair with Davenport Assumption, the darkhorse contenter in Class 3A.
Triplets Bailey Brown, Carlye Brown and Delaney Brown contribute to a 17-8 club with the eight losses coming to Class 4A and 5A teams in the IGHSAU Top 15 rankings.
Davenport West, one of the 10 biggest schools (enrollment-wise) in the state, lost to Assumption 70-11 and 80-3. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, it was 80-3.
And, the roster of unbeaten and No. 1 Marion features four sets of sisters, Mia and Kayba Laube, Chloe and Delaney Rice, Randi and Riley Rice and Leah and Ella Van Weelden.
#Several NCAA Division I recruits displayed excellent skills on the first two days of the tournament.
Iowa City’s Ashley Joens, who will play at Iowa State, played all 32 minutes, pouring in 36 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 78-62 cruise past last year’s state champ, West Des Moines Valley.
Valley junior Zoe Young, a Maryland commit, had 28 points.
Meanwhile, Indianola’s Grace Berg (Missouri) and Maggie McGraw (ISU commit) tallied 28 and 27 points, respectively. in a 64-63 upset of No. 2 Cedar Falls. CF’s Kamryn Finley, Kiana Barney and Wolf combined for 34 points, just seven more than teammate Emerson Green, one of the flashy sophomores in the five-class tourney.
#Northern Iowa commit Cailyn Morgan, whose dad, Michael, played basketball at Iowa, led Iowa City West with 20 points in its win over West Des Moines Dowling. Teammate Rachel Saunders, a Creighton signee, tallied 13 points for West and Logan Cook, an Iowa recruit, had five points.
Dowling’s Caitlin Clark, publicized as the best sophomore in the country, had 20 points in the contest.
Cook is the daughter of former Iowa and NFL tight end Marv Cook, who is now the football coach at Iowa City Regina.