Prep Sports

A pair of basketball powerhouses at North Linn

Girls', boys' teams are a combined 20-0

The North Linn basketball teams are a combined 20-0 this season (the girls are 11-0, the boys are 9-0). Key members include, clockwise from lower left, Grace Flanagan, Jake Hilmer, Ashley Tull, Ryan Miller and Abby Flanagan. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The North Linn basketball teams are a combined 20-0 this season (the girls are 11-0, the boys are 9-0). Key members include, clockwise from lower left, Grace Flanagan, Jake Hilmer, Ashley Tull, Ryan Miller and Abby Flanagan. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

TROY MILLS — Girls win. Boys win.

That’s the theme, every Tuesday and Friday, home or away. Girls win, usually big. Boys win, usually bigger.

Welcome to the glory days of North Linn basketball.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of,” said Abby Flanagan, a sophomore on the girls’ team. “It’s fun to be a part of a great team, then watch another one when we’re done playing.”

The girls are 11-0 overall, 10-0 in the Tri-Rivers Conference. They have been ranked No. 1 in Class 2A all season.

The boys are 9-0 in all games, 8-0 in the league. They are rated No. 2 behind Grand View Christian in The Gazette’s 1A list.

“Every night out, our players are expecting two wins,” junior all-stater Jake Hilmer said. “I think our fans are, too.”

What they haven’t seen yet is much drama, especially in the boys’ games.

The frenetic-paced Lynx are averaging 95.9 points per game and have gone over the 100-point mark on four occasions.

Their closest game was against Edgewood-Colesburg, 86-42. That was Ed-Co’s lone loss this season.


“It’s a fun style that fits our personnel,” said Hilmer, who averages 24 points and 13.3 assists per game. “We have two shooters to my left and right, and we have posts that are ready to catch the ball.”

The large margins — such as 115-31 and 105-8 — have chafed some people outside the community. The online message boards haven’t been kind at what some perceive is a lack of mercy.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” said boys’ coach Mike Hilmer. “I know the kids have read it. We can’t control what other people think and say. What I care about is what other coaches think about us after the game is over, and that hasn’t been an issue.”


Through the first nine games, the Lynx are shooting 58 percent from the field and average 25.3 assists per game, compared to 4.9 turnovers per contest.

“That’s kind of crazy,” said senior Ryan Miller, who leads the team at 25.1 points per game. “I think it just shows that we’re unselfish and we don’t really care who scores.”

Coach Hilmer came to North Linn after stints at Lincoln Central and Estherville ELC. At ELC, he coached a kid named Brian Wheatley, who graduated in 1996.

“He was kind of an undersized post,” Hilmer said. “He was a very intelligent player.”

Coach material, as it turned out.

After Wheatley graduated from UNI, Hilmer coaxed him to North Linn, where he served as a JV boys’ coach before the varsity girls’ job opened. He inherited a team coming off an 0-22 season in 2003-04.

His first team won eight games.


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“It humbles you really quick,” Wheatley said. “I had all this cool stuff that I thought would work, and I realized in a hurry that I had to start with the basics.”

But the girls’ program — both programs — grew, then flourished as youth programs were put into place.

“Parents here are willing to work with the kids,” Wheatley said. “They take them to practices and to tournaments, starting in second or third grade.”

One girls’ team in Iowa can make the claim that it has reached the 20-win mark each of the last seven seasons. It’s North Linn.

The Lynx have won four league titles in the last five years and have reached the state tournament three times in that span, including a 2A runner-up finish in 2015 behind Miss Iowa Basketball Nicole Miller.

Last year, the girls returned — they lost a competitive first-round game to eventual champion Western Christian — and the boys made their first state appearance since 1977. They fell to Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the 1A semifinals and won the third-place game.


Basketball is a three-generation deal for the Hilmers. Jake runs the point, and Mike — also the school’s athletics director — is joined on the bench by his father Bob — the all-time winningest coach in state history with 846 wins in 55 years, the majority at Forest City.

“It’s been awesome having him here,” Mike said of his father, who turns 78 in January. “We don’t always agree, but that’s good.”


Senior post Ashley Tull is the top scorer for the girls’ team, averaging 16.2 points per game and shooting 72 percent from the floor. Her family moved here from Linn-Mar when Ashley was in fifth grade.

“It was such a small school,” she said. “It seemed everybody was related somehow. I’ve grown to really like it here.

“It was really cool in middle school, watching the older girls play at such a high level. Now it’s our turn, and we’ve got to step up.”

Unlike the boys’ team, the girls have had to go the distance a couple times this season before victory was secure. They sidestepped a late 3-point attempt by Cascade in a 49-44 win at Rivalry Saturday, then pulled away from a tie game early in the fourth quarter to beat Springville, 48-35.

The Flanagan twins — Grace and Abby — shoot about 40 percent from 3-point range and combine for about 25 points per game. And the Lynx have allowed 25.4 points per contest.

“The girls’ team plays a lot like we do,” Jake Hilmer said. “They play at a fast pace and pressure the other team.

“They kind of set the tone for the night.”

The holidays are past, and the season restarts Tuesday. North Linn hosts Alburnett is a girls’/boys’ doubleheader, and more of the same is expected.

Eventually, the games will get closer and the stakes will get higher. March isn’t that far away.


“We got (to state) last year,” Miller said. “This year, we don’t want to just get there.”

He didn’t say any more. He didn’t have to.

North Linn boys

Co-coaches: Mike Hilmer, 49 (27th year, 347-233; 19th year at North Linn, 274-137), and Bob Hilmer, 77 (55th year, 846-345; 3rd year at North Linn, 57-3).

Record: 9-0. Tri-Rivers: 8-0.

Offensive average: 95.9. Defensive average: 30.1.

Key players: Ryan Miller, sr. (25.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.4 spg, .639 FG%); Jake Hilmer, jr. (24.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 13.3 apg, 6.9 spg, .628 FG%, .906 FT%); David Seber, jr. (12.9 ppg); Adam Waskow. sr. (9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Trevor Boge, jr. (7.6 ppg); Brad Pflughaupt, sr. (6.7 ppg).

North Linn girls

Coach: Brian Wheatley, 40 (14th year, 246-75)

Record: 11-0. Tri-Rivers: 10-0.

Offensive average: 70.9. Defensive average: 25.4.

Key players: Ashley Tull, sr. (16.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, .721 FG%); Grace Flanagan, soph. (13.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.8 spg, .864 FT%); Abby Flanagan, soph. (11.5 ppg, 4.1 spg); Kylie Kurt, jr. (8.5 ppg); Emma Ware, sr. (6.2 ppg); Anna LeGrand, sr. (6.0 ppg).

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