From 11 in her high school class to NCAA All-American: Iowa’s Megan Gustafson

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COLLEGE PARK, MD – JANUARY 04: Megan Gustafson

The coach had finally seen enough. He’d watched his eighth grade boys jostling for position in the paint, only to be pushed right back by the other team’s center.

During a timeout, he angrily walked over to the opposing bench and lodged a complaint.

“He thought I was being too rough on them,” Megan Gustafson said. “My coach turned to me and said, ‘Keep playing exactly the way you are.’ He didn’t want anyone thinking I couldn’t play with them just because I was a girl.”

Gustafson has never backed down from a challenge. Born and raised in Port Wing, Wisconsin, the University of Iowa junior center has always been a big girl fueled by a small town work ethic.

Port Wing has a population of only 364 and not a single stoplight. Gustafson’s graduating class at South Shore High included just 11 seniors.

Filling out school athletic teams required some creative combinations. Gustafson grew up playing with girls nearly three grades higher or on coed teams matched against all-boys teams.

The residents of Port Wing knew Gustafson was something special from the moment she scored her first basket.

They have watched with pride as she developed into an efficient double-double machine at Iowa and likely All-American.

The 6-foot-3 junior is averaging 24.5 points and 12.6 rebounds while shooting 65.5 from the field. The points and field goal percentage rank second in the nation and the rebounds rank third.

According to her HerHoopStats, Gustafson is sixth in the country in shooting efficiency out of more than 3,100 players, averaging 1.38 points each time she attempts a shot. She’s in the top three percent in both offensive and defensive rebound rate, grabbing a rebound on more than 15 percent of Iowa’s misses when she’s on the floor.

Gustafson has 22 double-doubles in 24 games this season. She set the Iowa career record for double-doubles last weekend with her 49th to move past men’s player Kevin Kunnert (1971-73)

“You look at the box score and Megan has a quiet 30 points. How does someone have a quiet 30 points? But it’s become expected from her,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think any time Megan misses now it’s more unusual. That really shows you how awesome of a player she is.”

Bluder and her staff worked hard to recruit Gustafson out of Port Wing. Finding a 6-foot-plus lefty that wanted to play on the block in an era of lanky positionless “unicorns” is becoming more rare.

The Iowa coaches believed Gustafson could be a program changer, and went to great lengths to make regular visits.

The closest airport to Port Wing is located in Ashland, Wisconsin, a 45-minute drive if the road conditions are ideal.

Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen made the trek one night during Gustafson’s senior season, and found the airport empty when she arrived.

“She walked to the main building and there was a little envelope in the door that said Jan Jensen on it,” Gustafson said. “It had directions to get her rental car eyes in the cupboard inside. That is how small the airport is. Nobody was there. It was pretty funny to hear about it once she arrived at my game.”

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