March 17, 2024 

Familiar faces battled in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals

These Drake and UNI stars have been playing each other since high school

MOLINE, Ill. — Katie Dinnebier and Maya McDermott are no strangers to playing each other, especially in high-stakes games. The Missouri Valley Conference junior point guards of Drake and Northern Iowa, respectively, have been going at it since high school. 

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Dinnebier and the Bulldogs beat McDermott’s Panthers 92-83  in overtime Saturday in the first game of the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Hoops in the Heartland Tournament. Top-seeded Drake — reigning MVC Tournament and 2023-24 regular-season champion — advanced to Sunday’s championship game. It will face third-seeded Missouri State, which defeated second-seeded Belmont 63-48 In the other semifinal Saturday. 

Named the MVC Player of the Year earlier this week, Dinnebier was confident Drake would be able to win the back-and-forth game with its in-state rivals, despite giving up a lead that was as many as 10 points in the third quarter.  

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“I had no doubt that we would come out on top again,” she told reporters after the game. “I think that’s something that has been our mindset the whole season. I think that’s what’s so special about our team.

Dinnebier struggled in the first half, with her first points coming with about five minutes left in the second quarter. But she ended up with a 15-point, 10-assist double-double, hitting two clutch 3-pointers in overtime to help ice Drake’s win. 

“A key point for us is that we’re never backing down, and I think we just put the foot on the gas and keep going,” she said. “Our team really has guts, and every game that we get down, in every game that we kind of falter, it’s a game of runs. You’re never going to be leading the whole game. I think we just always know that we’re going to come back and give 100% effort every time we step across the line. And I think that has been a really key point to our success this season.”

UNI was led by McDermott’s 33 points, including the eight straight she scored during a 13-3 Panthers run to start the fourth quarter.

“We were just in a rhythm in the fourth quarter,” she told reporters after the game. “We had a lot of urgency and we got in a good rhythm, and that’s when shooters shoot.”

Just narrowly missing the championship game is a large step forward for the Panthers, who started their season 1-9 amid a slew of injuries that kept some key players, including McDermott, out for multiple games. 

“We take adversity. We roll with it. We don’t duck our heads, and when we fall, we get back up,” McDermott said. “We’re gritty. We just showed that in the fourth quarter. We could have won that game and unfortunately we fell short, but we’re gritty, and that’s conquering adversity.” 

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They’ve seen each other before

Both growing up in the Des Moines metro area, Dinnebier and McDermott have been playing against each other since high school. With Dinnebier at Waukee High School and McDermott at Johnston High School, the duo battled each other in the Central Iowa Metro League as well as the Iowa Girls State High School Basketball Tournament. 

In 2020, McDermott and third-seeded Johnston defeated Waukee 69-65 to capture the Iowa 5A state championship her senior year. McDermott, named the All-Tournament Team captain, had 14 points and nine assists in the title game. Dinnebier, named to the All-Tournament team as a junior, led all scorers with 29 points for Waukee. 

Another Des Moines–area star from the Central Iowa Metro League, Caitlin Clark, didn’t reach the state tournament her senior year in 2020, as Dowling Catholic was upset by Sioux City East in the regional final. All three played together in the All-Iowa Attack AAU team.  

In 2021, it was Dinnebier who hoisted the state championship trophy as Waukee won the 5A title. This time around Waukee had no trouble defeating Johnston, dominating the Dragons 71-43. Like McDermott the year before, Dinnebier was named the All-Tournament Team captain. She was named 2021 Miss Iowa Basketball and 2021 Gatorade Iowa Girls Basketball Player of the Year, averaging 19.1 points, 4.0 assists and 3.5 steals per game as a senior.

After Drake’s win over UNI at the MVC Tournament on Saturday, Dinnebier spoke of her yearslong rivalry with McDermott. 

“Maya is a phenomenal player. I played against her all through high school and played against her in college,” Dinnebier said. “She has the ability to take over the game anytime.”

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Teams wait for postseason fate

Drake will lock in its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance if it beats Missouri State in the MVC Tournament championship game at 1 p.m. CT Sunday. 

But even with a loss, head coach Allison Pohlman believes the 28-5 Bulldogs have made a good case for an at-large bid. 

“We’re one of the one of the last conference tournaments, so I really hope that the selection committee completely understands the fact that we’re 28-5 and we’ve had a lot of big wins,” she said. “I think the Missouri Valley Conference in how deep it is and how successful we’ve been, I think we are worthy of numerous bids. I think we’re worthy of that situation. I think if you look at our record and also the teams that we’ve played, we already have four, if not five, NCAA Tournament teams that we’ve already played this year. I’m really hopeful that the selection committee feels like we warrant that; I feel like we warrant that, but we also have a great opportunity to make our decision of what our fate is tomorrow [in Sunday’s championship game].

Although UNI started the season 1-9 in a very tough nonconference schedule, head coach Tanya Warren believes the Panthers’ 14-6 record in MVC play will lift them to a postseason bid in the WNIT. 

“We were a possession away from being in the championship game tomorrow, but I’m extremely proud of my team for their effort,” she told reporters after the game Saturday. “This team has been resilient all year when you look at the fact that our five starters that started the season played a total of six games together and we had all of our kids in practice a total of three weeks together. So, when you look at all of that, the resilience that this team has shown all year long is who we are.

“I’m very confident we will [play in the postseason],” she continued. “We played the fourth toughest nonconference schedule in the country. We started 1-9 and we’ve been pretty good in the last 15 games. I’m very confident we’ll be in postseason play.”

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Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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