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Kevin Cook
February 13, 1989
They call the game six-on-six, and every winter it takes the Hawkeye state by storm
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February 13, 1989

The Iowa Girl Stands Tall

They call the game six-on-six, and every winter it takes the Hawkeye state by storm

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"Lynne will be a great college player," says Pam Wettig, her coach at Iowa State. "It just takes time for a girl who played six-on-six to adjust." The fast, physical college game demands a level of conditioning that six-on-six players, who rest after every possession, never achieve, Wettig says. College ball confuses them, too. A six-on-six forward, who operates in a decongested lane, can get by with one good move to the basket. In college, she may elude the player guarding her, turn and run into four more. Then, when the ball changes hands, she must play defense—another new skill. And in addition to everything new she has to learn, the six-on-sixer who plays in college must unlearn a whole rulebook. "I still don't take that third dribble," Lorenzen says, laughing.

Cooley, of course, argues that the traditional game is perfectly good preparation for college hoops. "Our six-on-six players are as heavily recruited as the girls of any state in the union," he says. "Our girls are specialists—refined defensive players, and especially refined offensive players."

There is no disagreement on the relative popularity of the two styles of play. Girls' five-on-five games in Iowa are generally surrounded by empty seats. After all, fans can see the same game played more expertly by males. Six-player teams, on the other hand, pack small-town gyms from state line to state line. And when tournament time rolls around, hamlets all over Iowa pile into caravans and head for the Vet.

"This tournament is one of the great American spectacles," says Jim Zabel, who succeeded Ronald Reagan as the sports voice of Des Moines's WHO radio. "Gradually the bigger schools are going to five-on-five, but I don't see the six-player game dying out. It's simply too important to the small towns."

"There's nothing like this in the whole world for a female basketball player," says Wettig.

Girls' State '88 opens on Tuesday, March 8, four days before the Battle Hymn and the Patriotism Pageant will proclaim its climax. The Vet smells of popcorn and sweat. A souvenir stand stocks sweatshirts, floppy hats, pompoms and Minnesota Twins-style "Hooper Hankies," plus T-shirts reading I'M FOR SIX-ON-SIX Or I'M FOR FIVE-ON-FIVE. Ginny Carpenter, who has worked this stand for 18 years, is pushing the traditional game. "Females are females," she says, "and I don't think we have any business playing by male rules."

On the court the old game seems as lively as ever. You can get a bracing whiff of perfume at court level, and see players' faces rouged with more than effort. One forward carefully adjusts the ribbon in her hair, then spits in her hands and rubs them on the soles of her shoes. A referee opens the proceedings by bouncing the ball on a map of Iowa at center court. Another map—this one electric, dotted with amber lights representing the 16 tournament teams—hangs from the eastern wall. Losing teams will see their hometowns disappear from the map.

This year Dike High, with an enrollment of 137, comes to Des Moines unranked, a sleeper in the race to Super Saturday. But the Bobcats have a secret weapon in their junior forwards, Darci and Dawn, a duo designed for six-on-six hoops the way a combine fits a cornrow. Long-limbed Darci takes lobs in the paint and drops them in the bucket. Darci shot .725 from the field this season. Dawn streaks the lane for short jumpers or dishes to Darci. Dawn is Miss Assist.

Their rapport, on the court and off it, is uncanny. Their friendship began in a nursery at Cedar Falls' Sartori Memorial Hospital. "We were ruggers [rug rats] together," says Dawn. In kindergarten they were put in different classes to teach them independence. Their teacher, Dawn recalls, "wanted us to get some other friends." Dawn and Darci got back together in the first grade and have been inseparable ever since. On weekends they can be found at the Pizza Hut 11 miles away in Cedar Falls, stoking up on deep-dish before an assault on the nearby mall. But athletics is each girl's passion. In the fall both Dawn and Darci play volleyball (Dike won its fourth straight state championship in '88). While maintaining a 3.66 grade point average, Dawn was named Iowa volleyball coplayer of the year this fall, and she plans to pass up hoops to play volleyball in college. The reason is simple: "I don't like five-on-five."

Like most lifelong buddies. Dawn and Darci have their arguments, "but we end up laughing," says Darci. On the court, Dawn says, Darci "knows exactly when I'm going to pass it to her."

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