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"They'll stretch the rules, make the adults scratch their heads a little," coach Murr says. He suspects they were at the other end of a giggling 2 a.m. phone call he received not long ago. "But they're just good kids, fun-loving kids."
Long before the girls were hooking up for high jinks or baskets, their families were close friends. The Meester clan—Dawn's folks—is northeast Iowa gentry. In 1864, five Meester brothers and one sister emigrated from Germany. They soon tamed Iowa's rich farmland and became, in journalist Calvin Trillin's words, "the largest and most prominent of Grundy County's founding families." Al Meester, Dawn's dad, is the great-grandson of one of those Meester pioneers. Fifty years ago, the story goes, you could hike the 15 miles from nearby Parkersburg to Grundy Center, the county seat, and never leave Meester soil. Al farms 240 acres of corn and soybeans—a tiny plot by early Meester standards. Dawn's mom, Shirley, who played forward for Steamboat Rock in the '50s, teaches nursing at the Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo. Dawn, who has three older brothers, is too busy with school and sports to do much more than token chores around the "home place," as Iowans say. She is a fifth-generation Meester—as close to royalty as it gets in green-collar Grundy County.
Darci's dad, Dennis Graves, a carpenter, built the house in which he, his wife, Beverly, Darci and her four older siblings (three brothers, one sister) live. Dennis is 6'2", just tall enough to look Darci in the eye. He is diabetic and legally blind, but he can still read, albeit very slowly. And he never misses a Dike game. "I don't see everything I'd like to see," he says. "I can't see the expressions on faces, but I can see the numbers on their backs. I can't see the ball go in the basket, but you listen to the fans, and you know if it went in." Says Beverly, who runs a beauty shop in the Graves's home, "He memorizes the sports pages." During Girls' State '88, Dennis probably takes longer than any other fan to pore over the box scores, but he locks his famous daughter's numbers in his memory and revels in her deeds.
Darci and Dawn, for their part, are underwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding Girls' State Week. Schooled in hardwood knocks by their six brothers (including Doug Graves, who grew to 6'9" and played center at Ohio University), they figure, as Dawn says, they can "keep up with girls."
But in the opening round it appears for a while that Dike's light will soon disappear from the map. Humboldt forward Mindy Hendrickson scores 20 first-quarter points. Murr runs his hands through his hair. Darci and Dawn exchange worried glances. In the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 71, the game becomes a free throw shooting contest. Dawn, drying her hands on her uniform pants, shoots a look to the Bobcat bench—not to worry, Coach. In the final four minutes Dawn, Darci and all-state volleyballer Jenn Eimers drain one charity toss after another. Murr applauds as the trio finishes with a combined 37 of 46 from the line. Dike wins by 13. The light representing Humboldt, two hours northwest of Des Moines, goes dark. On the hardwood the victors' confetti mingles with the losers' tears.
The quarterfinals are on Thursday, which dawns warm and cloudless, the sky a pane of blue that meets a flat horizon. Fans converge on the Vet with calls of "Hi, neighbor!"
Dike faces Moravia in one afternoon game. Moravia's Mohawkettes boast a 26-0 record and two shoo-ins for the all-name team, Reggie Self and Richelle Pfannebecker. The latter has fashion-model cheekbones, gold tresses and a Larry Bird touch that converted 32 of 50 three-pointers during the regular season. Still, for every basketball question she is asked this week, she will hear the boyfriend question twice. "Don't have one, don't want one," Pfannebecker replies. She keeps her eyes on the hoop.
Dike's Bobcats, as Girls' State handicappers now know, will bank heavily not only on the mismatched duo of Darci and Dawn but also on the power of their coach's sweaty suit. Murr is a Whitey Herzog look-alike whose down-home demeanor masks strategic savvy. He is adept at adapting. In 21 years of coaching the girls' game he has seen every strategy the old game is heir to, and beaten most of them. A deft technician, Murr is also profoundly superstitious.
"This suit has not been cleaned since the last time we lost," he says. His voice has the lilt of a cement truck. "As long as we keep winning, that's the way it's going to be."
Dawn comes out blazing against Moravia, making four quick baskets. Dike athletic director Hubert Kopriva goes dancing down the sideline, spelling D-I-K-E with his arms and legs. His tie flying, the 58-year-old Kopriva finishes with a moonwalk. Dike holds the lead until the fourth quarter, when Darci gets her shot blocked. Unaccustomed to such stuff, Darci looks shell-shocked. She and Dawn, standing at the midcourt bus stop, can do nothing but watch as Pfannebecker drills a three-pointer to close the gap to 49-48 Dike.