The Early Lead: 'State in 88'
By BRANDON HURLEY
Oh, what fun it must’ve been watching Jefferson-Scranton girls’ basketball in the late ‘80s.
The talent the Jeffettes (yes, that was their name back then) had at their disposal during their tremendous run was unlike Greene County had seen before and, frankly, since.
Three future Division I players treated fans and opponents to regular, eloquent Broadway shows, right here in Jefferson, complete with perfectly choreographed jump shots, dazzling assists, beautifully scripted pick and roll offense and death-defying rebounds.
OK, I may be embellishing just a hair, but the 1987-1988 girls’ basketball team was quite spectacular, to say the least.
As we approach the 30th anniversary of that magical season, let’s take a second to gloss over the statistics from that time frame.
Jefferson-Scranton’s trio of Trisha (Waugh) Pipkins, Cathy (Proctor) Krieger and Kristi (Kinne) Hayes combined for more than 7,000 career points, more than a dozen school records, and the school’s only two state tournament trips. What an era, what a team and what a trio of athletes.
Three decades later and those names still carry significant weight in the Greene County and Jefferson-Scranton record books.
Pipkins (Class of 1988) left Jefferson as the school’s all-time leading scorer and earned a scholarship to the University of Iowa while Krieger (Class of 1989) went off to play at Kentucky as J-S’ leading rebounder. Hayes would one-up each of them and capture the career scoring record (3,406) as well as the single-game scoring record (79) while leading the Jeffettes to its second, and last, state tournament before enrolling at Drake.
The greatness of that time period didn’t exactly sink in with the players, or the coaching staff, for that matter. They thought they were merely a good team.
“It was what we knew, it sounds so dumb to say,” Krieger said about playing with such high caliber of athletes. “We knew Trish was playing college ball, but I didn’t start getting recruited until after the state tournament. I honestly never thought about playing basketball.”
Pipkins set the bar and brought the Jefferson-Scranton program into the spotlight. Krieger kept the program there while Kinne wrapped up the era by taking the Jeffettes back to state in 1991.
It’d be difficult to compare, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find another school with less than 300 students in Iowa that had three big-time college athletes on the same team, a trio that played so well together.
In fact, not many Division I caliber female athletes come through Greene County, as a whole. In the last 30 years, from what I’ve gathered, it’s been the late 80s early 90s basketball trio, Kris Curnyn with Iowa State University track and field and most recently, Megan Durbin, who will also be a future member of the ISU track program. Count it – that’s just five female athletes in school history, and for three of them to come from the same team, that’s historically amazing and down right bonkers.
Unfortunately, all three weren’t together at their peak, but they were pretty darn good during the 1988 state tournament.
The statistics are mind-boggling.
At one point in their careers, each athlete averaged at least 33 points per game across an entire season, led by Hayes’ (Kinne) career and school best, 52 points per game in 1991. Pipkins averaged 45 points during her senior year while Krieger averaged 33 points and 9.5 rebounds.
The prowess of the upperclassmen pushed Hayes to take her game to the next level. She had three years remaining and it was her turn to lead.
“It’s really neat. In a town like Jefferson’s size, that’s very rare to have three Division I players on a team,” Hayes said. “That in itself speaks volume. It’s impressive because Trisha started it by setting the bar so high. Then Cathy came through and set the bar once again.
Hayes continued, “They both really challenged me from day one in a very positive way. I’m honored to have been on a team like that because here were other very talented girls on that team.”
There was just so much historical greatness involved with the program that winter. Legendary coach Keith Vander Wilt had quickly rounded the J-S into shape in just his third season running the team. The 17-year head man (1984-2001) compiled a career record of 213-166, winning 133 six-on-six games.
“He was very laid back, he was very easy going and didn’t get very excited,” Hayes said. “He never got too high or too low, kept us calm, he had a towel that he always had over his shoulder.”
Though when pressed he said he doesn’t remember much about the 1988 tournament run, the old coach was quick to point to a string of errors as we sat down to watch some of the state semifinal game.
A missed layup early in the first half sparked an instant reaction.
“We missed a lot of those that game,” Vander Wilt said. A lazy turnover garnered another groan.
Now, I’m not old enough to have watched six-on-six girls’ basketball live, but from the stories I’ve heard and the highlights I’ve seen, it was quite the game. Former Jefferson-Scranton and Drake star, Kristi Hayes remembers it well.
She refuses to forget the impact the six-on-six game had on her career, and life, to be frank. And why would she? It took her to so many great heights.
Before every season of each team she coaches, she’ll bet the newest crop of players she can reach the basket in two dribbles. The youngins’, being naive, of course, think she’s crazy.
“One thing that is so important, is we used those two dribbles very wisely. We learned to cover a lot of ground,” she said. “Offensively, I knew how to get around a defender, my first step had to be very quick.”
Hayes and Pipkins both went on to play for a pair of icons at the college level. C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa and Lisa Bluder at Drake. Stringer is now the Rutgers coach and has tallied 977 wins while making four Final Four appearances. Bluder coached 10 years at Drake before taking over at Iowa. The University of Northern Iowa graduate has spent the past 17 seasons with the Hawkeyes and recently notched her 700th career win.
Hayes credits Bluder for teaching her the intricacies of the five-on-five game.
“Lisa was very tough on me, but in a good way. She knew how to bring out the most effort,” Hayes said. “It was tough but she taught me a lot about the game, the fundamentals of basketball. She taught me a lot. She was never going to take it easy on me. She forced me to push myself.”
Hayes would earn Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors as a Bulldog as well as All-American recognition while scoring more than 1,500 career points. She’s certainly one of the most successful athletes to come through Jefferson or Scranton.
Six-on-six basketball leveled the playing field. Quicker, more conditioned teams couldn’t out-run less athletic schools. They couldn’t force them into turnovers thanks to a full-court press. Coaching came into play more than just pure talent.
“Because you only had two dribbles, it created a lot of space,” Vander Wilt said. “It was tough for the guards to adapt when it went to five-on-five because there wasn’t as much room to move around.”
Even with three bonafide superstars on his team, Vander Wilt never altered his coaching philosophy. That style trickled down to his players as well.
“I didn’t treat them any different,” he said. “That’s really how they treated themselves, too.”
The impact that J-S squad had 30 years ago even fails to resonate with Hayes all this time later. As she enjoyed a recent tour of the Greene County High School with her family a few months back (she now lives in Ohio), one of her children pointed to the trophy case. There Hayes was, pictured with her teammates, celebrating the third place finish. She was taken aback for a moment. Her humble pride was still present three decades later.
“I stopped and thought it was pretty cool,” the mother of four said. “That’s awesome it still has a place at the school. For me, it was such a blessing.”