She led Class 1-A in rebounding with more than 14 per game, yet she disliked being the center of attention.
She led her volleyball team in kills, aces and digs, yet she was just as happy when a teammate made a key play to turn the momentum.
Her powerful throwing arm at catcher struck fear into opposing baserunners, but Katie Dentlinger of Coon Rapids-Bayard would never dream about going out of her way to try intimidating someone.
“She’s the humblest best athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Kent Halstead, who recently ended a 13-year run as the school’s volleyball and softball coach. “She is just a special kid. She’d be the girl you’d want your daughter to hang around with.”
Dentlinger, who captained The World-Herald’s Class 1-A All-Western Iowa volleyball and basketball teams as a senior and made first-team All-WI in softball, is the newspaper’s choice as its western Iowa female athlete of the year for the 2011-12 school year.
“It was just amazing how good she was at everything, and it turned a whole community on to girls sports at Coon Rapids-Bayard,” Halstead said.
That she blossomed into one of the school’s best all-around athletes was somewhat of an unlikely feat. Her father, Terry, a farmer, wasn’t an athlete, and her mother, Shelly, participated but experienced only moderate success. Older sisters Ashley and April played sports but weren’t overly successful, and older brother Tyler helped his father on the farm.
But in third grade, Katie joined the Lil’ Cru, a youth basketball program made up of Coon Rapids-Bayard students. She started playing youth volleyball there in fourth grade. Her basketball team was particularly good, going 52-8 in a three-year stretch.
“Whenever we’d lose a game, we’d get so emotional,” Katie said. “It was pretty big for us.”
On the sidelines at many of those youth games was Nicole Dentlinger, Katie’s younger sister who is now a junior at Coon Rapids-Bayard. Nicole said she watched the games intently, “wishing that I could play with her.”
As Nicole’s love of sports grew, Katie offered a helping hand. They shot hoops in their front yard, hit the volleyball in the backyard and threw the softball around.
“She always would ask me to go outside with her at night and practice her sports,” Nicole said. “And she’d always be willing to help me.”
Katie shined in her freshman year. She started at outside hitter in volleyball and helped the Crusaders to state, where they squandered six match points in a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss to Springville.
She started in basketball and was the top rebounder for a team that also reached state. Katie led the Crusaders with 11 points in the state quarterfinals, but they lost 40-39 to North Butler.
After starting on two state teams as a 15-year-old, Katie hoped to make several more state appearances. But it never happened. When she was a senior, her teams lost in a regional final in volleyball and regional semifinals in basketball and softball.
They all hurt, but Katie said the basketball loss to Martensdale-St. Marys particularly stung. The three-time all-stater desperately wanted to end her prep basketball career at Wells Fargo Arena, as did the rest of the seniors, including Mary Halverson, another 1,000-point scorer and a tremendous all-around athlete.
After the loss, Katie sat up most of the night texting her coach, Jessica Heydon.
“It was the worst feeling in the world,” Katie said. “Actually a week ago, I was still sitting up at night, thinking about it. It still hurts.”
Heydon said she’ll always have fond memories of coaching her top post player.
“Katie’s such a well-rounded girl,” Heydon said of the 3.4 student, a National Honor Society member and the reigning homecoming queen. “She’s a good worker during practices, during games and in the classroom, too. She was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. She’s been awesome as a role model for the younger kids of Coon Rapids.”
Katie’s time on the court with Nicole was cut short. Nicole tore the ACL in her right knee for the second time last summer. She battled through the volleyball season with Katie, but then had surgery and missed last basketball season. They played together one last time in softball, losing a 10-inning semifinal to Exira-EHK in July.
Nicole said she was sad, “not just because we lost. It was more, I won’t ever get to play sports with my sister again.”
Katie, who also played golf for the first time as a senior, will continue her basketball career at William Penn University, an NAIA school in Oskaloosa. After seeing her play one time, coaches for the Lady Statesmen knew they wanted her. They offered her full tuition, room and board. She’s responsible only for her books.
“I’m kind of anxious to see how much better I can get, just focusing on one sport,” she said.
Katie worked some camps in Coon Rapids this summer. She also tutored a sophomore-to-be on her post moves. Whatever she could do to repay her school and her coaches, she said.
“I’m so blessed to be living in such a small town and to have the support that I have,” she said. “I definitely thank my coaches and my teammates for everything they’ve done for me.”
Halstead said he’s probably speaking for many around town who feel like that previous statement should be the other way around.
“I had some ninth-grade moms tell me that they were so happy that their daughter got to hang around with Katie Dentlinger for a year,” he said.
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