By Chris Faulkner
Abbey Bence made an impact on the West Burlington High School girls basketball team, most notably in her final two seasons in which she earned all-state recognition.
But she’ll eventually be making an impact on a larger number of young athletes.
Bence will play basketball for Central College in Pella next winter. While at the D-III school, she’ll major in kinesiology with the end goal of being a physical therapist.
“After dealing with (her) shoulder injuries and having such a positive experience,” Bence said. “I want to do the same for others and give back to my community and help others return to sports.”
Bence suffered a torn labrum in her right shoulder last year, which kept her from throwing the discus for the track team, and she won’t be able to do that this year.
She should be back for softball, as she’s been a four-sport athlete when her health allowed.
Basketball, however, is her true love, and she finished with 1,313 points, now her career scoring record.
“That’s something that’s such an honor to me,” Bence said, of breaking the mark held by Sydney Marlow, “who was such a role model of mine. I didn’t expect it to happen.”
Bence scored 528 points this year alone, for a 24-points-per-game average. Besides earning South Division Player of the Year honors and all-district recognition in Class 2A, Bence was made second-team all-state by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association. Last season, she was on the second team of the Iowa Print Sportswriters Association and the third team for the IGCA.
“It’s a great honor,” Bence said. “Any of the postseason accolades are such an honor to be a part of, to be on the same teams with other girls with so much talent.”
Basketball wasn’t always her favorite sport, as, “I did a lot of traveling softball and volleyball,” she said.
But she grew to love basketball and said, “I have a passion for the game. I love the physicality that comes with it.”
Her favorite memory was her sophomore year when the Falcons made it to state, only to lose in the first round.
After that season and between her junior and senior seasons, she said she did a lot of work on her own to improve her game.
But as with many team sports, even the best athletes are rarely a one-person show.
“I truly couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches supporting me,” Bence said.
Bence noted the contributions of her four varsity teammates.
“McKenna Marlow played with me all four years,” Bence said. “I think we do a good job of seeing each other, finding each other on the court.”
West Burlington’s post player and fellow senior Isabelle Ritter went out as a freshman and sophomore but sat out her junior season.
“I’m really glad she came out her senior year. I’m really thankful to finish my playing career with her,’ Bence said.
The other two starters, juniors Taryn Havener and Isabella Blaufuss flew under the radar.
“A lot of their efforts go unseen,” Bence said. “They’re not always in the spotlight. They really contribute to the team as a whole. I’m excited to see what they both can do next year.”
Coach John Vandenberg contributed to Bence’s success as well.
“Coach always pushes me and sometimes will joke that he never stops yelling at me,” Bence said. “But it’s only because he cares. He taught me how to work hard and pushed me to my breaking point, but I wouldn’t be the player or the person I am without him.”
That’s a common sentiment for good athletes with good coaches. But Bence made sure to praise another coach.
Brendan Freeman was her JV coach her freshman year when she saw little playing time on varsity.
“Since then, he’s always had my back,” Bence said.
Freeman is an assistant varsity coach, “and when Coach Vandenberg is hard on me, he’s always there to pick me up,” Bence said of Freeman.
“He always tells me to keep shooting, keep playing and move on to the next play. He’s one of my biggest role models.”