IOWA CITY, Ia. — Drake had shown some interest in Makenzie Meyer since she was a freshman at Mason City High. So during her junior year, she and her family drove 120 miles south to Des Moines to check out the Bulldogs’ athletic facilities and watch a game.
That was Dec. 21, 2014. Meyer’s lifelong team, Iowa, was in town that day. She remembers the 100-98 heart-stopper Iowa eked out en route to its Sweet 16 run.
"It was amazing," Meyer said Friday. "The crowd was huge. The gym is kind of like a high school gym, so the fans are on top of you and it’s really loud."
Drake had already offered Meyer’s future teammate, Amanda Ollinger, after a Bulldogs camp the summer before Ollinger’s sophomore year at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Iowa coach Lisa Bluder also called Ollinger’s mom during the camp. They were offering Amanda a scholarship, too.
"It was a really awesome day," Ollinger said with a smile.
The Hawkeyes wound up nabbing Meyer and Ollinger, both ESPN top-100 recruits. Of the six top-100 Iowa products who have signed in-state since 2008, Iowa has landed five. Iowa State’s Jadda Buckley is the lone exception.
But Iowa and Drake are irreversibly connected on the recruiting trail. And those two are connected with Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and vice versa. With four legitimate Division I programs in a mid-sized state, recruiting experiences such as Meyer’s and Ollinger’s aren’t rare.
All the other Iowa-Drake connections? OK, those are uncanny.
Bluder coached the Bulldogs for 10 seasons before coming to Iowa in 2000.
Associate head coach Jan Jensen is a Drake legend. She led the country at 29.6 points per game in 1991, her senior season. She was on Bluder’s staff at Drake.
Assistant coach Jenni Fitzgerald was the starting point guard for Drake with Jensen and graduated in 1990. She also coached with Bluder at Drake.
Bulldogs head coach Jennie Baranczyk was a Hawkeye superstar from 2000-04, racking up three all-Big Ten selections and an All-American honor along the way. She’s one of two Iowa players to have 1,700 points and 800 rebounds in her career.
Ally Disterhoft's mother, Missy, played with Fitizgerald and Jensen at Drake.
"Jan’s got her name hanging up in Drake's arena and Jenni spent four great years playing there, and then eight years coaching along with Jan," Bluder said. "So those are added emotions. Obviously, Jennie also was a great player for us at Iowa. So it’s very intertwined."
Iowa rides a 14-game win streak over the Bulldogs into Sunday’s game. It’s lost one game against Drake under Bluder — her first in the 2001-02 season. (The all-time series is tied 24-all, so that goes to show how dominant Drake was before this recent stretch.)
The Hawkeyes have already beaten Iowa State and UNI this season, so a win Sunday would be a clean sweep — their second in three years.
"I think it’s great, just to go out there beat UNI and Iowa State and hopefully Drake on Sunday. It’ll just show the Iowa kids that it is a Hawkeye state," said Michigan product Tania Davis, who wasn't recruited by Drake. "It’s great to be a Hawkeye every day in practice, on the court, off the court, in the classroom. It’s just great. So I think winning those in-state rivalry games, those are awesome for recruiting."
Meyer agreed a clean sweep would help recruiting: "Definitely in-state kids, I would say so."
Barring Notre Dame and maybe UCLA, Drake will be the most potent offense Iowa has faced this season. The Bulldogs are second nationally in assists per game (21.6), 10th in free-throw percentage (79 percent) and 21st in points per game (81.4).
Drake all-time leading scorer Lizzy Wendell nets 22 a game. Four other Bulldogs average in double figures, too.
"We know it’s going to be the toughest of the in-state series," Bluder said. "I think this is one of the best teams that Jennie’s had since she’s been there."
Bluder doesn't think redshirt sophomore Carly Mohns will play Sunday. She said Mohns is practicing fully and ready to go physically, but ...
"She’s still a little bit off, not quite there yet," Bluder said. "I really couldn't even tell you when it’s going to happen. It's one of those things where every day we go to practice and we see what we get. But being out a year, it takes its toll."
Mohns tore the meniscus in her left knee during practice last December. A true sophomore at the time, Mohns had surgery, missed the entire season and was granted a medical hardship waiver to redshirt her sophomore year.
Bain covers Hawkeyes basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
WHO: Iowa (8-3) at Drake (5-3)
WHERE: Knapp Center, Des Moines
TIME/TV: 2 p.m., MC22/ESPN3
ABOUT THE GAME: Barring Notre Dame and maybe UCLA, Drake will be the most potent offense Iowa has faced this season. The Bulldogs are second nationally in assists per game (21.6), 10th in free-throw percentage (79 percent) and 21st in points per game (81.4).