Barneveld native Hannah Whitish expects to draw crowd at Kohl Center
Highway 18/151 between Barneveld and Madison figures to be busier than usual today.
Whether by car or by bus, a good many of Barneveld’s 1,239 residents figure to brave the bitter cold and make their way to the Kohl Center.
Some of them may actually be University of Wisconsin women’s basketball fans. But make no mistake, the primary motivation for most all of them will be to cheer on the village’s favorite daughter, Nebraska junior guard Hannah Whitish.
Just how many Barneveld residents will be on hand as the Cornhuskers (9-10, 4-4 Big Ten Conference) take on the Badgers (10-10, 1-7)?
“A lot,” Whitish said. “I know they had one bus and were working on a second bus to bring people down. Then there’s all my family. I feel like it’s going to be crazy.”
There’s precedent for that, as the section behind the visitors bench was jammed with hometown supporters for Whitish’s only previous game in the state during her freshman season.
“I just remember that it was like everybody in the stands was from Barneveld,” said Whitish, who scored 13 points that night in a losing cause as the Badgers romped 82-56.
Similar crowds have shown up for games at Iowa and Minnesota, as well, Nebraska coach Amy Williams noted.
“I think at this point we’ve seen the whole town of Barneveld turn out at a few games during her career,” Williams said. “She’s just got tremendous support from that community.”
It is a loyalty born of Whitish’s storied high school career in which she led the Golden Eagles to the WIAA Division 5 state championship game four consecutive years, winning titles her sophomore and junior seasons. She was a four-time first-team All-State selection by the coaches and was named Wisconsin’s Miss Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior when she averaged 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.5 steals per game.
“We were extremely lucky with the group we had growing up,” Whitish said. “We kind of knew it was going to be something special because from the beginning we were beating a lot of teams and winning a lot of tournaments. But just being able to do that with our high school team when it really actually counted was something special.”
Many observers thought it would be special if Whitish would go down the road to spend her college career at UW. But then-coach Bobbie Kelsey and her staff didn’t show much interest until late in the process, feeding the perception they didn’t value in-state players.
So, did Whitish feel snubbed?
“I feel like a lot of people thought that,” she said. “There were a lot of really good players in my class and they didn’t stay in state, and if they did they went to Green Bay or Milwaukee. I think everybody kind of noticed that for a while there they weren’t really hitting the in-state kids too hard.
“Honestly, I never took a visit to the Kohl Center, never took a visit to Wisconsin. I knew I kind of wanted to go out of state, so it didn’t really bother me too much or hit me too hard, I guess. I’m happy where I’m at.”
Before she got to Lincoln, there was some uncertainty after the coach who had recruited her, Connie Yori, resigned. A couple other members of Whitish’s recruiting class received releases and went elsewhere.
But Whitish decided to honor her commitment after the job went to Williams, who had recruited her while coaching at South Dakota.
“It helped her to have that comfort level in knowing our coaching staff and knowing that we had made trips to Barneveld and we had sat in her gym,” Williams said. “She knew we were really excited about her game and how her game fit into our style of play.”
The 5-foot-9 Whitish became a starter midway through her freshman season and has since established herself as one of the best all-around guards in the Big Ten, earning second-team all-conference honors last season and being selected as a preseason All-Big Ten player this season.
After leading the Huskers in scoring as a sophomore at 12.6 points per game, Whitish’s scoring is down this year to 8.9 points. Williams attributes that to opposing defenses focusing on her, combined with her own unselfish tendencies.
“She was not recruited to Nebraska to be a point guard but she’s stepped nicely into that role,” Williams said. “She wants the basketball to be in her hands at big times. She’s kind of an extension of me and my staff out on the floor and I’m real excited about all the things she does for our program.
“I think everybody in the country is looking for that versatility and multi-threat option that Hannah provides.”