CENTER POINT — There’s no doubt, the Iowa girls’ state basketball tournament has made its mark.
The girls who have been fortunate enough to be on a team that earned the chance to participate in this fabulous event all talk about it with the same twinkle in their eyes and excitement in their voices.
No matter how long ago their time on this court took place, they are all still bursting with an unmatched love for the game and a “purely Iowan” sense of pride about how our forward thinking girls’ athletics union allowed them to be part of such an amazing history.
My first memories of this tournament came from watching my cousin, Rheanna Egli. Rhea qualified for the state basketball tournament twice in her high school career before going on to play at Emporia State University. Before competing in high school, though, she can recall “being a little girl, and going to ‘The Barn’ to watch (her older cousins), Katie and Kesley. I looked up to them so much.”
The IGHSAU has shown it fully understands success breeds success. Our athletics union makes it easy for anyone to follow our high school girls by putting their tournament games online for free. This provides more exposure for each “Iowa Girl” and opens the door for even more dreams of getting to “The Well” someday.
Whether it’s someone they don’t really know, but admire, or someone who is a friend or family member who they love and respect, once a little girls eyes lock on to an “Iowa Girl” at the state tournament, a spark is ignited with the desire to reach that same pink logoed court. As the years roll by from that moment, there is a growing sense of awe and pride as they work for the day when they, too, can arrive at the girls’ state basketball tournament to proudly represent their hometown.
Center Point-Urbana senior Rylee Clark has been fortunate enough to reach the state basketball tournament three times during her high school career. When asked if there was anything that made the tournament special, she spoke of the community that exists between the female athletes from across the state.
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“One thing is we get to see a lot of other girls that we’ve seen from past games, and we get to talk to them and see how they’re feeling about the tournament,” Clark said. “I like just getting to talk to them.”
Iowa girls know it’s about more than just basketball. The memories you collect, character you build and relationships you make through your sport, and specifically at the tournament, will take you farther in life than your athletic competitions ever could.
Katie Egli, another cousin, played for Ankeny High School from 1997 to 1999. Her teams took home the gold in ’97 and ’99, while losing in the semifinal game in ’98.
“The memories that stand out the most for me are the sense of community and the atmosphere in Vets Auditorium,” she said. “We were fortunate and typically had a large following, which made for an incredible atmosphere.”
The “Iowa Girl” knows it takes a village to help them achieve their goals. It takes the moms and/or dads who think to have a hot meal ready for you after practice. It takes the grandparents who travel to every game possible. It takes the faithful fans who give you that fiery environment to play in. It takes the coaches who want what’s best for each individual on the team and push you to reach the next level of your game. It takes the people who come support you simply because they love sporting your colors. It takes the little boys and girls who are as into the game as the most dedicated adult fan.
The “Iowa Girl” knows, the little things like this make the difference.
“(Basketball) was probably the coolest because we accomplished the goal that we had,” said former CPU standout Eric Estling, a member of the 1995 undefeated state championship team. “I think we all, even with all our other sports, had that mind frame of teamwork and hard work the whole time, that there was no backing down.”
One of the most important things about being an “Iowa Girl” is recognizing early on hard work is necessary to get where you want to go in athletics and beyond. As they say, if it were easy, everyone would do it. To get where few teams have gotten, you must do what the majority won’t.
This is what it means, and what it looks like, to be an “Iowa Girl.”
Thank you to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union for believing in all “Iowa Girls” and for showing the world just how special we are for the last century.
Here’s to 100 more years of celebrating the “Iowa Girls” of basketball.