The beginning of a new basketball season is all too familiar for sisters Darby and Allie Massner. The two have grown up around the game, and have excelled at every level. The Massner sisters were a big part of a golden age in Mediapolis girls’ basketball and now don Iowa Wesleyan colors when the winter season rolls around.
This season, however, feels a little different than years past. That’s because it’s the last time the two sisters will share the court.
Darby, who led IW with 14.7 points per game last season, is entering her fourth and final year at IW. She and Allie, a junior, will be playing their third year of college ball together after being side by side for three years in high school, but their time on the same side of the court began well before playing for Mepo High.
Before high school, Allie would play up a grade on Darby’s tournament teams. Darby was part of a special Class at Mediapolis, one that would lead the school to back-to-back state tournament appearances in 2014 and 2015.
“It was actually weird the first year she was in high school and I was still in middle school,” Allie recalled before practice on Thursday night. “It was like the first time we were ever not playing together.”
When the sisters hit high school, they ran in to success right away. During Darby’s first two years, the Bullettes went 44-4, falling just short of the state tournament both times. In the 2013-14 season, when Darby was a junior and Allie was a sophomore, Mediapolis went 24-2 and advanced to the state tournament for the first time ever in the five-on-five era.
The next year, Mediapolis won their first 25 games. The Bullettes came into the season ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, and didn’t lose until a seven-point loss in Des Moines to eventual champion Nevada in the state semifinals.
“High school basketball was a fantastic experience for us,” says Darby. “I think back to it all the time now because I’m still really close friends with all the girls. “
Darby scored 17.6 points per game her senior year, second on the team. Allie was the sixth-leading scorer on the squad, tallying 4.2 points per game, and three of their teammats came from the senior class that both Massners grew up playing with.
“Three out of my four best friends all went on to play someplace,” says Darby. “ We’ll still text in our group right now, and be like, ‘It’s crazy we’re all starting our senior years.’ It feels like it was just yesterday that we were all just playing together in Mediapolis.”
When the Class of 2015 graduated, Allie was back in the same place she found herself in eighth grade; playing without her close-knit group. She scored just under 11 points per game and the team went 14-8, but failed to make it three trips in a row to the state tournament.
“My senior year was a little bit different,” Allie says. “First of all, (Darby) was gone, and we weren’t as good as I had been used to being. It was nice to come here and play with her again.”
Darby joined the Tigers for the 2015-16 season under head coach Steve Williamson, playing two years with him before current head coach Jack Bruns took over before last school year. The team was fresh off a 19-7 season, and Darby was baptized by fire, starting for one of the top teams in the SLIAC.
“There was a ton of nerves just because of (being in college), but it is weird,” Darby says. “When you play with someone for so long, and even the other girls I played with in high school, but obviously especially Allie because I grew up with her ... You know how other girls are playing. You’re able to read each other so well. When I came here, I didn’t know anyone on the basketball team. I had met a couple girls just on my visits and stuff, but it was completely new. “
The decision to come to Iowa Wesleyan had a lot to do with sticking close to family. Both Darby and Allie stuck close to home to be near their loved ones, especially their grandfather who passed away just before Allie graduated high school.
“At the time, our grandpa wasn’t in the greatest of health,” Darby explained. “To be honest, that was a huge factor in where I came. He was a huge sports fan, and I loved the fact that after I chose to come here, he came to every single one of my home basketball games.”
Although the Massners were never able to play in front of their grandfather in Iowa Wesleyan colors, plenty of family members and Bullette faithful continue to pour in to Ruble Arena to watch the sisters play.
“One huge section is always Mediapolis and our family,” Allie says. “We have great support from the community too, just people we’ve known. Our 4-H leaders from when we were younger, teachers, past coaches, friends. They still come to our games.”
Among the family members is their mother, Pam, who played on the last Mediapolis six-on-six state tournament team. The sisters say their love of basketball comes from their mom, although the whole immediate family is heavily involved in sports. Their father was a wrestler, as is their little brother.
When the Massners aren’t on the court together, they’re still side-by-side. After a year of living apart, Allie and Darby have roomed together for the past two years.
“Its easy,” Allie says. “It’s familiar, its comfortable, we’ve lived with each other forever. Everybody freaks out about new roommates.Well, we know each other, and know what each other does, (so) it’s an easy rooming situation.”
But, of course with any living situation comes greviences, and in stereotypical sister fashion, the elder Massner had just one complaint: bathroom time.
“We argue about the shower all the time!” Darby says. “I shower from the same time every single day, and sometimes Allie just decides she’s gonna shower then.”
With a smile, Allie retorted.
“Sometimes I get up earlier.”
The two Massners will enter their final year as the two most tenured women’s basketball players at IW. Darby is the only senior, and Allie is one of two other returning players. The rest of the lineup is filled with a junior transfer and 10 frehman.
“We’re starting young, but that’s not a bad thing, necessarily” Darby says about the new squad. “We have a lot of young talent.”
The Tigers will get the chance to show off that talent, young and old, when they take the court for the first time on Saturday, Nov. 10, against Buena Vista University. And no matter what the future holds for Iowa Wesleyan as a whole, it will be the beginning of one last run together for the two long-time teammates.
“It will be a bittersweet year, that’s for sure,” Darby says. “Just with it being my senior year, obviously, and it will be the last year I ever play a sport with Allie. Honestly, it didn’t hit me until the first day of practice.”
When next year rolls around, Darby says she’ll still be right there at the games with her younger sister, cheering from the sidelines with the rest of the family.
“One hundred percent, I’ll be the head of the Massner-Darbyshire section,” Darby says, looking at her younger sister, who has another reply.
“Yeah, she’ll be critiquing me from the sidelines.”