116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - Anna Nefzger's memory is etched in ink.
It's in the ink, written in a score book before each game, next to the number 22.
And it's in the ink tattooed on the bodies of two of her teammates.
There's a butterfly, plus some dots and dashes and a wave, on Emerson Whittenbaugh's right rib cage.
'Bufferflies were Anna's thing,” Whittenbaugh said.
There are two butterflies, with the name 'Anna” on Ella Imler's left rib cage.
'Butterflies remind me of Anna,” Imler said. 'I see them all the time, and I think of her.”
Nefzger was a few days away from her 14th birthday when she died in an ATV accident June 24, 2016, the summer before her eighth-grade year. And her classmates - Whittenbaugh, Imler and Taya Tucker - have carried her memory close throughout their magical senior basketball season.
The top-ranked Wildcats are 24-0 heading into their Class 2A semifinal against No. 4 Nodaway Valley (24-0). Tipoff is 10 a.m. Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Nefzger wore 22 on her uniform in middle school. That's the number assigned to her in the score book. She is listed as a 5-foot-8 senior in the tournament program.
'I just felt she belonged with us,” Wildcats Coach Scot Moenck said. 'It was never a question.
'I truly believe she is with us in the locker room, on the court. These kids, all of them, play for her.”
Imler, Whittenbaugh and Tucker all average in double figures. Moenck said Nefzger would have been right there with them statistically.
'Anna never understood how good she was,” Moenck said. 'Whatever she wanted to do, she'd have been good at. She would have been a post for us, and she would have been a good one.
'She was tough. She was aggressive. She was fearless.”
When Maquoketa Valley celebrated Senior Night on Feb. 2 at Delhi, Moenck presented framed collages, with uniforms and pictures, to Imler, Whittenbaugh and Tucker. And he presented one, of Anna, to her parents, Danny and Karla Nefzger.
'It was emotional,” he said. 'We talk about her all the time, and whenever we talk about her, it's emotional. Even more emotional lately. I don't know if it's because the kids are seniors and they're coming to the end of their high school careers.
'Anna's parents still follow and support the kids, messaging them and wishing them good luck.”
Tragedy struck the Maquoketa Valley community again last July 4, when another classmate, Teige Hunt, drowned at Lake Delhi. Last fall, the student body voted Hunt as homecoming king, Nefzger as queen.
'That's the way this senior class is,” Moenck said. 'When they do things outside of school, there are probably 30 or 40 of them doing it together.”
Whittenbaugh's tattoo has a wave - 'Teige was a lake kid,” she said - next to the butterfly. The initials of Nefzger and Hunt are transcribed in Morse Code.
Imler got her tattoo in Galena, Ill., shortly before basketball season; Whittenbaugh, in Cedar Rapids upon her 18th birthday in January.
Tucker plans to get a similar one sometime after the season.
'These kids are special to me,” Moenck said. 'We've shared a lot of good times together, and a lot of tears.”
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