Article by Nick Moffit originally appeared in the Kalona News. Photo by IMS Yearbook staff.

Iowa Mennonite girls basketball coach Kari Heusinkveld was awarded the E. Wayne Cooley “You Can” Award by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association for her work in rebuilding the Iowa Mennonite girls basketball program. 

The award is given out to both athletes and coaches in honor of E. Wayne Cooley, who served as the executive secretary of the IGHSAU for many years and is made to illustrate qualities of determination, character and the values of pursuing victory with honor. 

The coaches award is specifically meant to recognize a coach early in their coaching career for building up a varsity program. Heusinkveld was one of three awarded for girls basketball this season. 

Heusinkveld was named head coach prior to the 2015 season after spending one season as an assistant at Iowa Mennonite. Prior to that she was an assistant for one year at Goshen College, where she played her junior and senior year of college basketball. 

In the first two seasons with Heusinkveld as coach, Iowa Mennonite went 1-37, but the building blocks were there to turn the program around. 

In the 2017-18 season, Iowa Mennonite finished with five wins including two playoff victories and nearly a third. The 2018-2019 season featured a 10-11 record and one playoff victory. 

Beyond wins and losses, Heusinkveld has worked to build a strong team atmosphere and Iowa Mennonite and generate some buzz around the program. 

“Kari does a great job of building a sense of team and positive culture within the basketball program,” Iowa Mennonite Principal Dwight Gingerich said. “...Kari’s enthusiasm is contagious. She instills confidence and she demonstrates care for each player.”

Heusinkveld was nominated by Gingerich, who said she has brought a belief that they can win every game to the program. 

“The team competes hard and there is a belief that they can win.  She cares for the athletes. She works hard to develop a sense of team with the girls, and it translates into a positive experience,” Gingerich said in the nomination. 

Iowa Mennonite senior Suzanna Yoder said the entire change in the program can be drawn back to Heusinkveld’s coaching. 

“I love Kari. She’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Yoder said. “She has the ability to be a coach and have a sense of power on the court, but off the court she’s like a big sister or friend.”

After Teresa Cardenas, an Iowa Mennonite student and member of the girls basketball team, died last year, Yoder said Heusinkveld was able to guide the team through one of the hardest things they had gone through. 

“She was the reason we all got through that. She builds trust and invests a lot of time in us,” Yoder said. 

Heusinkveld was awarded the E. Wayne Cooley Award alongside Clarksville High School’s Ross Timmermans and Nashua-Plainfield HIgh School’s Josh Smith.