Six-player veterans still going strong
As teams gear up for the start of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the state of Iowa already has a Final Four. Their names are Lisa Brinkmeyer, Tara Gunderson, Julie Hand and Susan Koering.
They’re the last of an era, the last Division I college players in the country who spent their entire high school careers in Iowa playing six-on-six girls basketball _ the quaint, half-court game in which only three players could score, no one could dribble more than twice and a defender couldn’t swipe at the ball outside the free-throw lane.
Brinkmeyer plays at Drake, Gunderson and Hand are at Iowa State and Koering plays for Iowa. All three teams are in the NCAA tournament.
Nine others with six-on-six experience are on major-college rosters, but they switched to the five-player game during their high school careers.
``It’s strange to talk to people on the team about six-on-six,″ Brinkmeyer said. ``They see some tapes and can’t get over it. Only two dribbles? They can’t picture what it can be like.
``And the rule that you could only grab the ball in the lane, they’d say, `You could just shake the ball in people’s face?′ And then I’d think, you could.″
As a high school senior, Brinkmeyer led Hubbard-Radcliffe to the final six-player state championship in 1993. Dozens of schools already had switched to the five-player game by then and all were playing that version in the 1993-94 season.
``I liked six-on-six,″ said Gunderson, who played at Harris-Lake Park. ``I miss it now, especially seeing it at the state tournament.
``But I also love five-on-five. Since I’ve been playing it four years, it’s hard to believe I was playing six-on-six in high school.″
Oklahoma was the last state to keep six-on-six girls basketball, playing it through the 1994-95 season. A few players from that state who spent their whole careers in six-on-six are on Division I rosters, including three at the University of Oklahoma.
Hand played in the state tournament all four years she was at Emmetsburg High. Emmetsburg was so committed to the six-player game that it dropped out of its conference Hand’s senior year because everyone else in the league was switching to five-on-five.
``I was glad to play six-on-six all the way,″ Hand said. ``We had a good six-on-six team and thought we had a good chance of making it back to the state tournament.
``We took a vote in school. I voted for six-on-six. It came out 99 percent for six-on-six.″
All four of the six-on-six players averaged about 40 points per game as high school seniors. The problem, of course, was adjusting to the five-player game in college. It was especially difficult for Koering, who went from a small high school, Stanwood Lincoln, to the Big Ten.
``Six-on-six was fine when I was in high school, but when I came to Iowa I realized I needed the experience,″ Koering said. ``I wasn’t comfortable. I had so much to learn. It seemed like it took me forever to learn things, then just to relax and play and be free.″
Once she got over the change, Koering earned a spot in the Hawkeyes’ regular rotation. She started 18 of 28 games this season, averaged 3.8 points and was third on the team in assists.
Brinkmeyer played five-on-five in AAU games during the summer while she was in high school, so she had a taste of the full-court game. Still, it was a big change.
``From high school five-on-five to college five-on-five was a big jump,″ Brinkmeyer said.
``It was like learning a new sport. But it was fun. It was a challenge, and I like a challenge.″
Brinkmeyer, who redshirted last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, has rebounded from that injury to average 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. She leads the Bulldogs in rebounding and is second on the team with 41 3-point baskets.
Gunderson adjusted to the five-player game well enough to lead the nation in 3-point field goals last season with an average of 3.4 per game. She averaged 13.4 points last season and is averaging 11.1 now.
``I knew there would be some adjusting,″ Gunderson said. ``I played a lot of AAU five-on-five and I grew up with a lot of brothers, so I was used to playing a lot of five-on-five. ...Six-on-six helped me as far as shooting and fundamentals.″
Next season, only Brinkmeyer will remain from the four-year six-on-six players. Because of her injury last season, she’ll be able to come back for another year.
``I’ll be the Lone Ranger,″ Brinkmeyer said. ``Hopefully, I’ll have a good year so I can represent six-on-six the way it deserves.″