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Czinanos’ sisterly love will take a back seat Thursday as Iowa women’s basketball faces Minnesota
It’s Monika vs. Maggie, Iowa vs. Minnesota at Williams Arena
MINNEAPOLIS — Monika Czinano is a self-described horror-movie junkie. Maggie Czinano is more into Disney princess flicks.
When there was a disagreement on what to watch, it wasn’t a democracy.
“Monika kind of ruled the roost around here,” said their mother, Theresa Czinano. “If Monika wanted to watch something and Maggie wanted to watch something else, Monika would usually get what she wanted.”
That’s how sisterhood works sometimes. But sisters mature. Relationships evolve.
“Growing up, we were the siblings that fought all the time,” Monika said. “But the older we’ve gotten, the more she has leaned on me for advice, and I’m happy to give it.”
The eldest of the three Czinano girls, Monika returns home for a Wednesday supper at Mom’s house in Watertown, Minn.
The middle daughter, Maggie will be there, too. So will youngest sister Mallory.
“Each time Monika comes up here, it’s a celebration,” Maggie said. “Mom loves it. We all love it.”
The following night, Monika will set foot on the Williams Arena floor, with hopes of pounding the hometown team — Maggie’s team — one more time.
Iowa (10-4 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) faces Minnesota (9-9, 2-4) at 7 p.m. (BTN). The Hawkeyes are 5-0 against the Gophers during Monika’s career, 3-0 in The Barn.
“Even when I was little, there were a lot of tournaments I played there. I had birthday parties there,” said Monika, who will celebrate another birthday there on Thursday, when she turns 22.
“I was always thinking how cool it would be to play there (for the Gophers). I saw the locker rooms, it was like ‘oh gosh.’”
“(Minnesota) didn’t offer me. They didn’t recruit me.”
And it stung.
“When Iowa plays Minnesota, Monika will do whatever she has to do to ensure a Hawkeye win,” said Theresa, a high-school English teacher at Watertown-Mayer High School, about 30 minutes west of the Twin Cities.
“I know she feels, ‘They didn’t want me.’ She wants to rub it in. She wanted to be wanted.”
Things didn’t turn out so bad. As a freshman understudy to Hawkeye legend Megan Gustafson, Monika played on an Elite Eight team at Iowa. She made another Sweet 16 last year.
She was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a junior, ranks 18th in school history in points (1,366) and is averaging 18.5 points per game this season. Her 65.7-percent field-goal rate ranks third in the nation.
Monika is a 6-foot-3 post. Maggie is a 6-foot guard who has played in five games for the Gophers.
“It’s not the way I’ve expected my freshman year to go,” she said. “I’ve had a couple of tweaked ankles. I’ve had some vision problems and some illness.”
Three years apart, Monika and Maggie played two seasons together at Watertown-Mayer. In Minnesota, eighth-graders are eligible to play high-school ball.
“It was a lot of fun,” Monika said. “She had deer-in-headlights eyes in the big games. When I was a senior and she was a freshman, we played together a lot.
“She threw the ball hard. I guess it got me ready for the rockets that Kathleen (Doyle) and Caitlin (Clark) have been throwing to me (at Iowa).”
Watertown-Mayer placed third in the Minnesota Class AA state tournament in 2017, then was eliminated a game short of state in 2018.
Monika, Maggie and Theresa are in consensus that Older Sister could have been a better teammate to Younger Sister.
“I should have been nicer to her,” Monika said.
Maggie said, “She was a bit of a pain. She’s very competitive, very stubborn.”
And Theresa: “You can ask the coaches: Monika wasn’t very nice to Maggie. She had high expectations for her.
“But they evolved, and they became closer.”
The youngest daughter, Mallory is a 15-year-old high-school sophomore who Theresa said “got the best of both worlds” — Monika’s strength and Maggie’s agility — “but seems to like volleyball better.”
Theresa played high school basketball in Minnesota. Monika’s father, Gyula Czinano (the couple is divorced), played in Hungary.
“I really didn’t want to play because my heart was devoted to Shotokan Karate, which I practiced for more than a decade,” said Gyula, who is 6-foot-2.
“The school gave me two options -- either play basketball or join the school’s choir. The school choir didn’t feel like a tempting option at the time, so I joined the basketball team.”
Monika’s passion for basketball didn’t come immediately.
“She was always tall,” Theresa said, “but at first, she didn’t like it. She wanted to quit. She became a varsity manager in fourth or fifth grade, and she started to like it.”
“Going to Williams Arena, that was my go-to. When in doubt, I took the kids to basketball games.”
Monika’s life, and her outlook, changed when she was in eighth grade.
She was driving an ATV at a friend’s house. We’ll let Theresa take it from there.
“It had rained, then gotten hot, and there were ruts in the gravel road.”
One of the ruts caused Monika to lose control of the vehicle.
“Monika held on to the handlebar, and the ATV flipped,” Theresa said. “She was strong enough to hold on, but she got tangled into a fence. If not for the fence, the ATV would have flipped right on top of her.
“It split her (left) femur in half. It broke her right wrist. She spent the summer in a wheelchair and we moved her bed to the living room.
“We didn’t know if she was going to walk, or play basketball again. That’s kind of when her drive started to kick in.”
Monika joined the swim team as a freshman.
“My rule for the girls was that they had to be in three activities,” Theresa said. “She didn’t know anybody on the team. She was terrible at first. Since one leg was stronger than the other, she kept hitting the lane divider. But by the end of the season, she made the varsity team.”
As Monika rehabbed and recovered, Maggie took note.
“I know her love for basketball grew after that accident,” Maggie said. “She became very, very dedicated.”
Theresa said, “Maggie watched Monika all the time. She saw how hard Monika worked to be able to walk and run again. But, boy, she wanted to beat Monika. There was one game that Maggie had more points than Monika, and she rubbed it in.
“Monika hated that.”
You’d disagree after spending time with Monika, but she considers herself an introvert.
“Maggie’s more outgoing than I am,” she said. “I’m a little more introverted, though most people wouldn’t believe it.”
“Monika definitely needs her down time, her alone time,” Theresa said. “She loves to read and do stuff on her own. But she’s very good with people.”
Even her sisters.
“I love being a rock, someone that people know they can consistently count on,” Monika said. “If you look back at my freshman year, I didn’t play much either. It’s kind of a rite of passage.”
Thursday’s game will mark Monika’s fourth appearance as a Hawkeye at Williams Arena.
And how’s this for burying the lead? It might not be her last.
Due to the lost postseason of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA granted the option of a fifth year for athletes who competed that season.
“I’m considering my options,” Monika said. “It’s up in the air, but I’m definitely considering (coming back).”
“I hope she does,” Theresa said. “She wants to go into the medical field, and there are a lot of classes she can take. Selfishly, I’d love to see her play another year.”
Wednesday’s family supper will be a three-course meal of trash talk.
“It’s been that way for the last two years, since I committed,” Maggie said. “Iowa has some great players. But we do, too.
“I hope Monika has a great game, scores a lot of points. But I hope we win.”
The postgame handshake line has been a COVID-19 casualty this year in the Big Ten. So a Monika-and-Maggie hug will probably be out of the public eye, somewhere in the tunnel between locker rooms.
“I’m super excited to see her in person,” Monika said. “She’s not playing a whole bunch, but it will be fun to peek down there and see her during warmups.”