ANAMOSA - There have been numerous events that have stood out to Anamosa boys basketball fans over the past 25 years.
A state tournament berth and WaMaC Conference championship in 2016 is a big one.
But in the winter of 1997-98, there were some huge moments that players, coaches and fans who lived through the campaign will never forget.
No one, however, could have known what started with one of the most lopsided losses in school history in December, would end with one of the most thrilling contests in school history in March, with each coming against the same opponent.
The Anamosa boys, who came into the year with high hopes as an extremely talented senior class sorely wanted to make their mark on history at the school, as Mike Truesdell, Dan Achenbach, James Conmey, Cory Capron, Matt Rohwedder and Mike Conmey all wanted to end careers with a bang. Juniors Scott Nemmers, Bret McNamara and John Gronewold all wanted to help make sure that happened as well.
Little did even they know, but they would do exactly that.
But let’s start at the beginning.
After a thrilling season-opening 69-67 win over a very talented West Delaware team, the Raiders hosted their annual Anamosa Invitational Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, and head coach Kevin Barnes, who was in his third season with the program, wasn’t shy about bringing in some extremely talented teams.
The Raiders opened the tournament Dec. 5, against one of the best teams in all of class 3A in top-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie, and though the tournament was hosted by Anamosa, the game against the Hawks was played on Prairie’s own home floor and the hosts took full advantage rolling to a huge 111-68 win.
“Not much to say after a game like this,” Barnes said. “We really didn’t play that badly, they just had an unbelievable night shooting the ball. We did some good things offensively, but everything we did on defense didn’t work.”
The Hawks led 33-15 after one quarter and 64-29 at the half while Capron led Anamosa scorers with 19 points.
Neither team knew it at the time, but there was going to be a classic rematch in March, and this time the score would not be quite so lopsided.
In fact, it would become a game for the ages (we’ll get to that later).
The Raiders closed their tournament Dec. 6, with a 55-45 consolation win over class 4A powerhouse Davenport West while Cedar Rapids Prairie was handed a 55-48 loss against West Des Moines Valley in the Anamosa tournament championship game.
The Raiders began to march through the ‘97’-98 regular season picking up wins in the Big Bend and headed into the ’98 portion of the schedule with an important date with rival Monticello.
In true Anamosa fashion, the Raider boys put on another phenomenal show claiming a thrilling 68-64 victory Jan. 8.
“Nothing comes easy in this conference,” Barnes said. “We had a couple of different chances to put Monticello away, but to their credit they battled us until the end.”
The night was already made special with the unveiling and dedication of the Don Norton scoreboard before the game.
Norton, an AHS sports legend who also played football for the Iowa Hawkeyes and San Diego Chargers of the AFL, had passed away just a few months earlier.
Dignitaries like Bob Brooks (KHAK radio announcer), Bob Bowlsby (Iowa Athletic Director) and Norton’s teammates Randy Duncan (Iowa quarterback) and Ray Jauch (Iowa co-captain with Norton) were all on hand in the packed to overflowing Anamosa gym.
The wins continued over the next few weeks and the Raiders headed into the stretch run with a conference title squarely in sight, but they needed a win at Monticello on Jan. 30, to stay in the hunt.
They got it, and in dramatic fashion, too.
Huge hoops late in the game from Achenbach and Truesdell fueled a heart-stopping 57-55 road win in a contest that was tight throughout.
“What a game and what a week,” said Barnes, as a perfect Truesdell pass to Achenbach late in the fourth quarter allowed Achenbach to drill the go-ahead 3-pointer and give the Raiders a lead they would not lose the rest of the way.
“We told the kids when you play Monticello you throw out the records and just play as hard as you can. Both teams played extremely hard. It must have been a great game to watch.”
Sitting atop the Big Bend Conference with Cascade, the Raiders had a showdown for league supremacy against the Cougars in Anamosa Feb. 3, and were handed a disappointing 55-41 loss before a 70-51 setback at Maquoketa a few days later dropped the Raiders from the conference championship race.
But the Anamosa boys still had a lot to play for.
The Raiders ended a three-game losing skid Feb. 13, defeating Camanche 76-68 before a 52-49 triumph on Senior Night over Central DeWitt sent Anamosa into the regular-season finale against the same Marion team they would open district playoff action with a few days later.
Both would be slugfests.
Anamosa posted a 45-42 triumph on the Indians’ home floor to end the regular season, then March 2, hammered out a 43-37 victory over Marion in Anamosa to advance down the class 3A tournament trail setting up a rematch with Cedar Rapids Prairie in a district final to be played at Cedar Rapids Kennedy March 5.
This time, there would be no blowout.
Instead, the Raiders were just seconds away from pulling off the biggest upset in the state.
Anamosa had Hawk fans stunned from the start, and late in the game held a 55-52 advantage before Prairie’s Josh Kimm, Iowa’s Mr. Basketball and the best 3-point shooter in the state, got a second chance at a game-tying trey and nailed it with seven-seconds left in regulation.
The Hawks would go on to win 63-59 in overtime.
But it was Kimm’s second chance shot that proved to be the nightmare for Raider fans.
Kimm launched a first trey and missed it, but with time expiring somehow the shot ricocheted right back to him, and in rhythm the Hawk senior buried the second attempt, as well as all of the hearts of a huge contingent of Anamosa fans in attendance that night.
“I am really at a loss for words,” said Barnes after the game, as his team finished with a 13-8 overall record. “I am so disappointed in this loss, but at the same time I can’t begin to say how proud I am of this group of kids. This was the greatest effort I have ever seen. Our kids played their hearts out, made great decisions and deserved to win this game.
“I feel we lost on a fluke play. I don’t see how else to explain that rebound at the end of the game. How often do you see a missed 3-pointer in the last seconds of a game get tipped 23-feet from the rim right back to the best 3-point shooter in the state to catch it in stride and knock it down?”
The odds had to be one-in-a-million, but with it the careers of the gifted Anamosa senior class were over. But for everyone who was there that night, the memories will always remain.
Cedar Rapids Prairie went on to win the class 3A state championship that winter, routing every opponent from there on out by at least 20-points. Only Anamosa gave the Hawks a game in the post-season.
Raider fans, however, were left with ‘what could have been.’ But what fans got was a season (and a game) no one will ever forget.