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Iowa women's basketball starter has local connection

Apr. 12—For the first time, the women's Division I college basketball championship had more viewers than the men's.

Part of the increase in attention on the sport has to do with the Iowa Hawkeyes, and two Missouri Western State University alumni have a special connection to one of their standouts.

JoAnna Mantz, formerly JoAnna Stuelke, is the mother of Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke. Mantz played at Missouri Western State University and even received coverage in the St. Joseph News-Press because of her free spirit play on the court.

"I played with a lot of joy and I had a lot of fun and I wasn't afraid to let my emotions show," Mantz said. "Which is really cool now to other women embracing that."

Mantz is optimistic that the sport will keep growing.

"I do know if they can keep a good pace of scoring up and the girls that are the big names in basketball, they can keep playing with heart and fire," Mantz said. "I think it will continue to increase the visibility of the sport."

Stuelke's dad, Mario Davis, also played at Missouri Western.

"When you look at the viewership and they're telling you, some NBA games don't even get that much people to watch," Davis said. "It does speak to what's going on with the female game right now."

Mantz and Davis played under hall of fame coaches David Slifer and Tom Smith, respectively. Slifer coached women's basketball at Missouri Western from 1995 until 2004. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 2018.

"I felt that women's basketball has gotten better and better," Slifer said. "All of a sudden every year we kept going to AAU tournaments and it was getting bigger and bigger more women's teams were playing, playing earlier."

Smith coached at Missouri Western for 25 years and was inducted into the hall of fame in 2006. He said the game is continuing to evolve in a positive way.

"The women's game has just improved so much, just like the men's game in terms of the ability of players to do things," former MWSU coach Tom Smith said. "I think it will only grow."

Slifer and Smith looked back on Stuelke's parents as players fondly and remembered them for their athletic abilities.

"(Mantz) has a lot of fun on the court, was a fun-loving kid," Slifer said. "One of those kids that is just a breath of fresh air."

Smith watched both of Stuelke's parents play in college and can see where she gets her game from.

"I think I lean towards Mario," Smith said. "I think (Hannah) is very athletic, it showed up in the tournament and Mario was a really good athlete."

Both coaches recognized the star power on the court now for women's basketball but also the rule changes that have helped the sport, like switching to four quarters instead of two halves like the mens'.

"I thought they were the right rules at the right time, to help grow our game," Slifer said.