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LE MARS, Iowa | Andrea Verburg is a role player for the volleyball and girls basketball teams at Sioux Center High School.

And, while it can be discouraging at times, not playing all the time, this Warrior junior gets it. There are starters and there are reserves on just about every high school sports squad. For now, she's a reserve.

When it comes to band and jazz band, however, Verburg is a starter, a centerpiece, a go-to performer for Meghan Powell, second-year director of bands.

"This is my 'happy place,'" Verburg says on Monday, minutes after wrapping up a pair of solos, signature elements in a three-chart set played by the Sioux Center High School jazz band in the Northwest Iowa Jazz Festival.

Forty-five middle school and high school jazz bands report to Le Mars for this Presidents Day event. High school bands use the occasion to stake claims to possible state titles, honors earned through competition at the Iowa Jazz Championships on April 5 in Des Moines.

Sioux Center High School, to Verburg's recollection, is looking for its first berth in the Iowa Jazz Championships. The saxophonist had barely heard of IJC until Powell's arrival one year ago.

Sioux Center performed at the district meet in 2015. Students then boarded the bus as Powell waited for the late-afternoon awards ceremony, and learned that perennial Class 2A jazz powers Okoboji and Alta-Aurelia would be headed to IJC, the result of their first- and second-place finishes.

And that was OK. Those bands certainly deserved their state trips.

"I didn't even know there was an awards ceremony," Verburg says. She was likely at basketball practice when awards were handed down.

And that's where Verburg stands early Monday evening as awards are  announced. When it's revealed that West Lyon and Okoboji finish first and second in Class 2A, Verburg and her Warrior teammates are engaged in dribbling and rebounding drills, preparing for Wednesday's Class 3A Girls' Basketball Regional opener against rival MOC-Floyd Valley.

"The basketball team has its five starters and then five reserves," Verburg says. "I'm probably like the 12th person. I was a sub in volleyball, too."

My rather pointed question follows: In an era when many student-athletes give up athletics if they don't play a lot, why does she stick with these sports?

"I like to stay busy," she says, refreshingly.

She's also a member of the show choir and track teams at Sioux Center High School. And, she's followed a family tradition by qualifying for the Iowa All-State Honor Band, having earned a spot with her saxophone during her sophomore and junior campaigns.

The daughter of Russ and Nora Verburg of tiny Middleburg, Iowa, says her mother was a two- or three-time all-state band member during her prep days at old Floyd Valley High School. Sister Erika, who played clarinet, also made the all-state band nearly one decade ago.

Earning a trip to Des Moines for the Iowa Jazz Championships would culminate a dream season, Verburg indicates. That said, it won't make or break the fun she's having and the learning she's enjoying under Powell, a builder who shows enthusiasm, affability and great humor.

"Everyone came out of our performance saying we played the best we ever had," Verburg says, showing a wide smile. "I guess I'm just hoping we have a chance."

"They're so young," Powell says, listing a jazz band roster that features just one senior, four juniors and 16 underclassmen. "We do have more of a section than when we began, so that's better. Plus, the drive to improve is a lot better."

Sioux Center finished in a tie for third at the Morningside Jazz Festival, certainly a result upon which to build.

"Next year," Powell promises, "we'll be even better."

If that's the case, the "happy place" for one saxophonist, a senior by then, will be even happier.



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