The Bullettes feature four sets of sisters on a team that is 20-1 and ranked seventh in Iowa for its class. That doesn’t even count Aubrey Siegle and her sibling, Chloe, the team manager. The girls recently won their conference and could become the first Mediapolis squad since 1987 to earn a berth in the eight-team state tournament finals.
“You’ve played with them growing up, so you can guess what they’re going to do. You know what kind of player they are,” said senior Allison Hedges, whose sister Ashley is a freshman on the team. “You know what move they’re going to make.”
In fact, sibling intuition is often the best play in the Mediapolis playbook.
Post player Haley Hillyard recalled getting stuck in the corner with a pass thrown by her little sister, Heidi, during a recent practice. Haley figured that Heidi’s next move was a sharp cut to the basket, even though Haley seemed boxed in. Without a word and barely a glance, Haley chucked it through heavy traffic and straight to Heidi for a layup.
Those kinds of moments happen quite a lot.
“It’s great opportunity to see how they’re alike in so many ways,” said coach Todd Rogers. “But you can also see how they’re different too, which is nice to see because they want to be their own individuals.”
Mediapolis is a rural farming town of about 1,500 tucked in the southeast corner of the state, just west of the Mississippi River, with a quiet Main Street anchored by diners, a post office and the local paper. Despite its size, the town has always been something of a hotbed for girls basketball.
The school qualified for the state tournament in 6-on-6 basketball 21 times between 1962 and 1987 under coach Vernon McLearn, an Iowa legend. The atrium of the school, within sight of a pair of cornfields, is decorated with dozens of plaques and trophies celebrating the team’s storied past, and the girls pass by that shrine every day on the way to the gym.
The game remains a vital part of the town’s personality, and the girls on this year’s team have been playing together for years. Unlike other teams, the Bullettes have often always had a sister there to push them past their comfort zone.
The girls insist that they hardly notice the fact that half the team is related to each other. But they also all believe that their sisters have made them much better players.
It doesn’t stop at hoops, either. Four sets of these sisters play on the volleyball team, which made it all the way to the state semifinals. Three of the pairs are also cousins.
“We’re each other’s biggest criticizers. Like, if you’re doing something wrong (we’d say), ‘Well, you should have drove, you should have not done that.’ We’ll tell each other because we’re sisters. Nobody else is going to say anything about it. So it’s almost a good thing because you have someone who’s (giving) you some advice.” Haley Hillyard said.
According to Rachel Holsteen, living under the same roof also helps.
“They can get mad at you, but they have to get over it sometime,” she said.
There’s also no doubt that part of the team’s personality is driven by sibling rivalry. But team unity isn’t an issue with these girls, whose familiarity allowed them to transition seamlessly from volleyball to basketball season.
The Bullettes had their first game just 11 days after their last volleyball match. They won by 56 points. The team motto this year is “Together We Make it Rain.”
“A couple of times when we’ve had a couple of sets of sisters on the floor at one time, it just seems like they do know we’re they’re at. Some of their passes, I wonder how in the world that pass got there. They know,” Rogers said.
Though the team’s leading scorer, Andrea Larson, doesn’t have a sister on the team, five of the next six behind her in points are related. The Hillyards and have each taken nearly the same number of shots and average roughly the same amount of points per night, and the nine sisters combine for roughly two-thirds of the team’s scoring.
It all stems from what the girls describe as “one big family,” and one they hope makes the three-hour drive to Des Moines together for the state tournament next month.
“Since I was little, my mom always told me, ‘You’re going to get along with your sister no matter what,” Haley Hillyard said.