The 2022-2023 season is special for the Forest City girls’ basketball program. Not only is the program in one of its best eras ever, but this season is the 30th of 5-on-5.
Paul Jensen led Forest City to first play 5-on-5 girls basketball in the 1993-1994 season, along with the rest of the North Iowa Conference schools – Lake Mills, Osage, Northwood-Kensett, West Hancock, North Iowa, Garner-Hayfield, and Belmond-Klemme.
That couldn’t be said for all schools in Iowa. Twenty-six schools switched to 5-on-5 for the 1984-85 season, mainly larger schools. A year before that, three Iowa schools sued the IGHSAU because they thought six-on-six was discriminatory. Girls in Iowa were at a disadvantage in playing college basketball as many colleges were playing 5-on-5, while Iowa high schools were continuing to play the 6-on-6 game.
In 1985, Linn-Mar became the first 5-0n-5 state champion, while Fort Dodge won the 6-on-6 title. The IGHSAU continued to sponsor both games and championships until 1992-1993, when Hubbard-Radcliffe won the final 6-player title, defeating Atlantic 85-66. According to articles written during the ’92-’93 season, 275 schools played the 6-player game that last season, while 134 had switched to the 5-player game. Along with mandating that all basketball play 5-0n-5 for the 1993-1994 school year, the IGHSAU also, for the first time, began holding a four-class tournament every year with eight teams until 2012-2013, when a fifth class was added.
Locally, the North Iowa Conference voted in the spring of 1993 – a vote that would later become meaningless when the IGHSAU discontinued the 6-player game – for all of its schools to play 5-player basketball in the 1993-1994 season. Osage continued their dominance in the new game. The Green Devils won their fourth straight title in ’93-’94, going 13-1 in conference play. West Hancock finished third in ’92-’93 and second in the first year of 5-player.
Forest City was one of the biggest movers in the new game. The Indians finished fifth at 5-9 in ’92-’93 but were able to go 10-4 and finished third in ’93-’94. The Indians were fortunate to have coach Jensen, who had experience coaching 5-on-5 basketball from his time as Dumont’s head coach in 1972-1973.
In anticipation of Forest City making the switch, Jensen says he was thinking ahead. He started a summer league on Sundays where girls from local schools came and played a 4-on-4 variation that Jensen made up. They would play a couple of games each session, and Jensen said it was all about learning. He was the only ref and let minor things go.
“We did that for a couple of summers; I allowed the girls to have unlimited dribbles to half court and then two dribbles after that because we were still playing 6-on-6 at the time”, said Jensen. “I wanted them, especially guards, to develop skills, not just defense, and the forwards could develop their defense skills, not just offense,” he stated.
Andrea (Hulsing) Wirth picked up the game quickly even though she was a senior and would spend just one season playing 5-player basketball at Forest City. She put together, still to this day, one of the best seasons in Forest City girls’ basketball history scoring 312 points and helping Forest City to their 12-7 overall record.
“I played 6-on-6 in elementary and up through freshman, sophomore, and junior year, and then made that transition, which I was super excited for”, Hulsing said. “I wanted to play in college, so it was a huge opportunity to make that transition to the next level.”
Hulsing grew up with her dad, Chuck Etzen, at her disposal; Chuck spent many years as the assistant boys’ basketball coach with Bob Hilmer, including helping him coach the Indians in the 1990 state championship game. He would later spend multiple years as Forest City’s girls’ track coach.
“She grew up in an environment where she did all skills necessary to be a full-court basketball player, she had a lot of ability, she was a very good softball player also, and she had a lot of skills – she was a very good athlete period,” said Jensen.
Hulsing’s 16.4 points per game in the 1993-1994 season still ranks second at Forest City to only Crystal Anderson, whose 17.4 PPG in 2000-2001 is at the top of Forest City’s record book.
“The transition was so fun, of course, I was a forward from playing 6-player, and I loved to shoot and score score score. It allowed me to be more versatile; it opened up the court, and… – it was just more exciting to play”, Hulsing stated with excitement.
The 2001 Indians, led by Anderson, won the North Iowa Conference for a second straight year, this time outright after sharing with North Iowa the year before. Forest City started the postseason on the road at Clear Lake in the Class 3A Regional tournament and lost a heartbreaker. Anderson hit two free throws with 12 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime. That’s when Clear Lake sophomore Megan Keefe hit a 10-footer at the buzzer to lift Clear Lake over Forest City 49-48. The jumper spoiled the would-be hero Alyssa Langerud’s attempt to have the game-winner. Langerud hit two free throws to give Forest City a 48-47 lead moments before Keefe’s winner. In her final game as an Indian, Anderson dropped 27 points.
Crystal was the first 5-on-5 girls’ basketball player in Forest City history to score 1,000 career points and was Forest City’s all-time leading scorer until Hannah Anderson surpassed her mark. Hannah currently still holds the Indians’ top-scoring mark of 1,214 career points.
For Hulsing, there will always be that what if – what if she got four years of 5-on-5? “I do. Yeah, I do natural, right? Like If we would’ve got to play all four years of high school, what would that look like? But that was the timing when I was in high, and I’m just thankful that I had that one year before going to college”, she said.
Jensen became the girls’ coach when he arrived in 1983 and went on to spend 12 years as the head man. He coached the Indians for ten years of 6-player and two years of 5-player, going 98-134 overall.
“I came in the spring of 1983 to interview for the high school mathematics position. I had hoped to be the (math teacher) and coach girls softball, but in the interview, they asked me to also coach girls basketball because Virgil Duit had resigned the day before”, said Jensen.
Duit coached the team for four years and went 50-32 from 1980-1983.
Jensen wasn’t prepared for them to ask about girls’ basketball and said he needed time to think about it before agreeing.
“I got to thinking if I said no, maybe my chances of being hired for the high school mathematics position wouldn’t be as strong, so if I really want to move up here, which I did, I came back later in the afternoon and said yes,” stated Jensen.
Chad Angel took over for the 1995-96 season and would go on to become and currently is Forest City’s all-time winnest girls’ basketball coach with a 162-136 career record in 14 seasons. The 2008-09 season was Angel’s final when a family move took him away from Forest City. Angel brought conference championships in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006. The Indians went 18-5 in 2005 and nearly knocked off #11 Iowa Falls but fell 40-36. In 2006, the Indians went 14-0 in conference play and went into the postseason with confidence, but fell in the first round to Webster City, which hit the game-winning three-point basket with two seconds remaining to beat the Indians, 35-34. Jessica Spada played in 87 career games scoring 662 career points. Kendra Hanson was a nearly 40 percent three-point shooter while attempting 287 career triples. She made 70 in the 2003-2004 season, which is a school record.
Dusty Meyn arrived for 2009-10; the Indians struggled that year to a 3-16 record but quickly recovered and went 11-10 in year two. Meyn led Forest City to the conference championship in 2016-2017. They also played in the regional championship game, falling to the eventual state-runner Sioux Center, 72-50. During his final season in 2017-2018, Meyn became the second Forest City coach to reach 100 career wins and guided FC to an 18-5 overall record. Unfortunately, it came to a disappointing end. Forest City beat Clarion-Goldfield-Dows in the regional first round before falling at home to Algona in the second round, a team they had beaten in the regular season. Along with Anderson, Meyn also coached the likes of Brea Dillavou, who scored 968 career points and collected a school record of 442 defensive rebounds, and Sarri Happel, who was over 800 career points. The regional final in 2017 was only the second time the school has been in the third round of the postseason in the 5-on-5 game. Amanda (Busta) Rosacker holds school records in assists and steals in one season – she was a reliable PG and energy leader. Meyn left Forest City to become the activities director at Manson-Northwest Webster.
Matt Erpelding became the seventh girls’ basketball coach at Forest City when he was hired before the 2018-19 season. There isn’t much Erpelding hasn’t done in girls’ basketball besides winning a state championship, so he was the right man for the job. Matt spent his first nine coaching years at WCLT, twice taking the Tigers to the state tournament. He spent the 2011-2012 season as an assistant for Meyn before he got the head job at Garner. He guided Garner to the 2014 conference title and left Garner to return to Forest City. Erpelding joined Angel and Meyn in getting Forest City to the regional final a year ago; the Indians fell 45-33 to West Lyon – the closest they’ve ever been to a state appearance. Shae Dillavou became the third Indian to score 1000 career points last year. She did so with a 25-point performance against Eagle Grove on January 11th. Dillavou holds the following school records – games played (career), offensive rebounds (career), total rebounds (career), made field goals (career), field goal percentage (career), total rebounds (one season), rebound average (one season), offensive rebounds (one season), defensive rebounds (one season), and field goals made (one season).
Forest City’s only other regional final appearance came in 2000 when Forest City beat Algona with a Crystal Anderson make with three seconds remaining. They then avenged an 18-point loss to Estherville, winning 60-52. But were stopped by Hampton-Dumont, losing 66-37 in the final. HD went on to lose to Washington 49-34 in the opening round at state. The program has played 632 games of 5-on-5 basketball, including the seven played this year. Forest City has a 348-284 overall record.
Iowa was one of the last states to make the change to 5-player girls basketball because Iowa loved 6-on-6 girls basketball, most especially Dr. E. Wayne Cooley loved 6-player basketball. Cooley spent nearly five decades with the IGHSAU and is most synonymous with the Iowa Girls High School State Basketball Tournament.
“He turned the six-day March tournament into one of Iowa high schools’ most beloved annual events. The tournament has been televised since 1951 and was seen in as many as nine states by 1968. In addition to outstanding basketball, the tournament is also famous for its brilliant entertainment shows at halftime and between games. The tournament’s popularity was featured in two different Sports Illustrated photo essays, one in 1969 and one in 1988. The tournament has also been the subject of features stories by USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, ESPN, and NPR”, the IGHSAU said in a feature about Cooley.
I asked Jensen if you asked him in 1993 if 5-player girls’ basketball would grow as much as it has “probably not.”
He continued by saying, “because the girls’ state basketball tournament for years was a huge, huge thing when it was 6-on-6”.
Jensen continued by saying he wasn’t looking into a ‘crystal ball’ but stated that it wouldn’t be unthinkable at that time if 6-player made a comeback. He also stated Cooley’s name as someone who spent a lot of time promoting the girls’ 6-player state tournament and the entire season.
6-on-6 was exciting for the lack of defense and the number of points scored per night.
But for athletes like Hulsing who wanted to play college ball, the experience they gain in high school is crucial. Hulsing only played one year of 5-on-5, a precious year. She went on to play for two years for Denny Jerome at Waldorf before finishing her playing career at Simpson.
A true Forest City legend, Jensen closed by saying, “I have certainly enjoyed my time here in all the sports and teaching in Forest City. Growing up in the 1950s playing ball – heck, here it is – I’m in the 2022-2023 season still playing ball – I’m spoiled”.
Thirty years is a long time, and Forest City has had many more great players not named and many more awesome memories that weren’t relieved. Here are a few do you remember moments that weren’t or were briefly mentioned above.
1993 – Carrie ( Lock ) Nelson scored the first 5-on-5 points, though unofficial, in a scrimmage in Forest City against Clarion-Goldfield.
1996 – Stephanie Swingen hit a game-winner to upset Clear Lake in the postseason. The win gave Forest City their first playoff victory in seven years.
2000 – First 5-on-5 conference title and first conference title in either game since ’86-’87.
2001 – First back-to-back conference titles in 5-on-5
2001- Crystal Anderson named first-ever 5-on-5 all-state player. Class 3A second team, both Newspaper Association and DSM Register
2002 – Northwood-Kensett’s final NIC season
2003 – Mason City Newman Catholic’s first NIC season
2005 – Whitney Cobb scored 15 points, including 10-14 from the free-throw line, to help Forest City beat Clear Lake 50-42 in the opening round of regional play. It ended a five-game postseason losing streak.
2006 – Forest City’s first 5-on-5 undefeated conference season – 14-0.
2008 – FC was one point away from #12 ELC in the opening round of regional play, losing 58-57.
2014-2015 – Final year of the North Iowa Conference
2015-2016 – First year in Top of Iowa Conference
2018 – Hannah Anderson becomes the first-ever 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 girls basketball player to be selected twice to all-state teams. Junior year 3rd team Newspaper and senior year 2nd team Newspaper.
2020 – Kaylee Miller drops 28 on Clear Lake. The lions were ranked, and FC battled them tough at home but fell.
2022 – Shae Dillavou was named 3rd team all-star from the Newspaper Association, becoming the first all-state selection since Hannah Anderson in 2018.
(note that all-state memories don’t include IGCA all-state teams.)
Forest City NIC/TIC Conference results from the past 29 seasons:
1st – 6
2nd – 4
3rd – 8
4th – 3
5th – 3
6th – 3
NIC – 190-122 in 22 years
1st – 5
2nd – 3
3rd – 4
4th – 2
5th – 3
6th – 3
7th – 2
TIC – 81-30 in seven years (not including the current ’22-’23 season)
1st – 1
2nd – 2
3rd – 4