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Benton player/coach duo highlights The Gazette’s 2022-23 all-area girls’ basketball team
Senior Jenna Twedt, Coach Jeff Zittergruen led the Bobcats to the Class 3A state finals
VAN HORNE — What is a breeding ground for basketball excellence?
An older sibling, to trigger motivation. That’s a good start.
A large driveway, to develop range. That doesn’t hurt, either.
Jenna Twedt was the beneficiary of both.
The all-time leading scorer at Benton Community, who led the Bobcats to the Class 3A championship game, Twedt is The Gazette’s 2022-23 girls’ basketball player of the year.
“It was definitely a season to remember,” said the 5-foot-9 senior guard. “It’s one of my best memories. Nothing will ever beat it.”
Twedt averaged 20.1 points and 3.5 assists per game this season. The Bobcats (23-4) were champions of the rugged Wamac Conference West Division and made their deepest postseason run in school history.
“She’s definitely somebody that left her mark,” said Benton Coach Jeff Zittergruen, the area coach of the year. “Her growth as a player and a person the last four years, it’s amazing.
“She has played for so long. She’s very intelligent. She takes coaching. She looks for things she can improve on, and she runs with it.”
In her youth, Twedt was a regular at Benton boys’ games. Her brother, Zach, is 11 years older and is the Benton boys’ all-time scoring leader.
Jenna watched, then followed. Practicing with Team Iowa and shooting regularly in a large driveway at the family home in Atkins, she developed into an excellent player in her own right.
She finished her career with 1,815 points.
However, the recruiting process was slower than she would have preferred.
“It wasn’t going how I had hoped, but when Kirkwood (Community College) contacted me, I knew Coach (Kim) Muhl wanted what was best for me,” she said.
Benton was a 4A state qualifier in 2022, then went two steps further in 3A this season.
“This was definitely something we talked about,” Zittergruen said. “The first goal was to win a conference championship. Every year, we built upon that.
“Last year, we wanted to get to state. And this year, we wanted a chance to play for a state championship.”
The Bobcats fought past Des Moines Christian in the quarterfinals and edged county-rival Vinton-Shellsburg in the semis. But Sioux Center was too much in the championship game, 62-47.
Zittergruen, 36, is the son of a coach. His father, Gary, piloted Benton to a state softball title in 1998, then eventually became an administrator at the school.
“Being around Dad a lot, I spent a lot of time on the softball diamond,” Jeff said. “I was a batboy and chased them around a lot. I worked with the men’s (basketball) team at Wartburg (College), and I loved that experience.”
Zittergruen also serves as football coach at Benton. It makes for a busy eight-month routine from August through March.
“My wife (Chelsey) is a saint, tracking down the kids during that time,” he said. “I’m so incredibly fortunate. My family provides a lot of support.
Benton has compiled a 78-40 record in Zittergruen’s five seasons as head coach.
In 2019, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which compromised his voice.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “But if that’s the worst outcome, it’s something I can deal with.”
The Gazette’s 2022-23 all-area girls’ basketball team
Jasmine Barney, sr., Iowa City Liberty — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 5A second-team all-state. Averaged 15.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as the Lightning (14-8) reached the 5A regional finals. Finished with 1,133 career points. Signed with Minnesota State University.
Bryar Duwe, 5-6, sr., Decorah — IPSWA Class 4A first-team all-state. Averaged 17.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as the Vikings (21-3) reached the state tournament for the first time since 2007. Finished with 1,420 career points. Signed with Truman State University.
Libby Fandel, 6-1, soph., Cedar Rapids Xavier — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 4A first-team all-state.Averaged 16.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as the Saints (16-8) reached the 4A state quarterfinals. Has scored 725 points with two seasons remaining. Multiple Division-I offers.
Kelsey Joens, 5-10, sr., West Liberty — Three-time selection, the first two at Iowa City High. IPSWA Class 3A first-team all-state. Averaged 24.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.0 steals as the Comets (17-7) reached the 3A regional finals. Finished with 1,647 career points. Signed with Iowa State University.
Kamryn Kurt, 5-6, jr., North Linn — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 1A first-team all-state. Averaged 16.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 steals per game as the Lynx (23-2) reached the 1A state semifinals. Has scored 1,206 points with one season remaining.
Callie Levin, 5-9, jr., Solon — Three-time selection. IPSWA Class 3A first-team all-state. Averaged 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.7 steals as the Spartans (23-3) reached the 3A state semifinals. Has scored 1,391 points with one season remaining. Committed to the University of Iowa.
Ava Locklear, 5-11, jr., Clear Creek Amana — IPSWA Class 4A second-team all-state. Averaged 13.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as the Clippers (18-5) reached the 4A state quarterfinals. Has scored 738 points with one season remaining.
Kyla Mason, 5-11, sr., Cedar Rapids Xavier — IPSWA Class 4A second-team all-state. Averaged 16.8 points (shooting 64 percent from the field) and 6.8 rebounds per game as the Saints (16-8) reached the 4A state quarterfinals. Finished with 767 career points. Committed to Central College.
Laney Pilcher, 5-8, sr., Jesup — IPSWA Class 2A second-team all-state Averaged 24.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 4.9 steals per game as the J-Hawks (13-10) reached the 2A regional semifinals. Finished with 1,297 career points.
Kaliyah Sain, 6-0, sr., Cedar Rapids Kennedy — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 5A second-team all-state. Averaged 21.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as the Cougars (13-9) reached the 5A regional semifinals. Finished with 1,181 career points. Signed with Lindenwood University.
Meena Tate, 6-0, sr., Iowa City West — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 5A third-team all-state. Averaged 14.7 points and 3.5 assists per game as the Trojans (16-7) reached the 5A regional finals. Finished with 992 career points. Signed with Dartmouth College.
Jenna Twedt, 5-9, sr., Benton Community — Two-time selection. IPSWA Class 3A first-team all-state. Averaged 20.1 points and 3.5 assists per game as the Bobcats (23-4) reached the 3A state finals. Finished with 1,815 career points. Signed with Kirkwood Community College.
Player of the year — Jenna Twedt, sr., Benton Community
Coach of the year — Jeff Zittergruen, Benton Community