DEWITT, Iowa — Seven years ago, Allie Meadows and Taylor Veach were third-graders, sitting in the stands in Bellevue and watching the Comets play their way to a state tournament berth.
"Taylor and I looked at each other and were like, ‘That could be us one day,'" Meadows said. "Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed about playing varsity basketball."
The pair, now sophomores at Central DeWitt, are getting an opportunity to realize that dream after bursting onto the scene last year and leading the Sabers to a 16-5 finish.
A year older, they're ready to build on that foundation. The freshman nerves are no longer an issue.
"I was really nervous going in because nobody really expected much out of us," Veach said. "It was really fun to be able to prove people wrong and now our whole school is rooting for us — they were before — but now they know what to expect more, they have more confidence in us."
Meadows and Veach have been best friends their entire lives, a friendship forged in part to the relationship between their mothers.
Casey Veach (nee Scheckel) and Jodi Meadows (nee Putman) were a year apart and teammates on the Bellevue girls basketball team in the 1990s, the reason the two girls were up watching that Comets game seven years ago.
They've been playing basketball together since first grade, starting on a youth team formed and coached by their mothers. Though both play in the Central DeWitt backcourt, they bring different tools to the game.
Veach is a southpaw guard who was a Class 4A third team all-state selection after scoring 13.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last year.
Meadows averaged 11.3 points and was second on the team with 41 assists and 35 steals last season, proving to be a strong defensive presence for the Sabers.
"I think they’re talented and gifted in their own right," Central DeWitt second-year head coach Chad Specht said. "They both bring high energy, they both bring positive energy, they're never quitting and they’re never giving up.
"It is a coach’s dream to have kids like that. Like I tell everybody, it’s one thing to recognize what they do from outside the gym, people who see that, but I don’t think people realize how much time they put into the gym and how much work they’ve done over the years to get to where they are."
The duo plays AAU ball for the Lady Martin Brothers Elite team and have started to generate interest from the college ranks. Meadows has been on visits to Valparaiso as well as Division II Truman State and Lewis University.
Veach has been on visits to South Dakota and Iowa and got a chance to really test herself this summer when she was invited to the USA 16U basketball trials in Colorado. She missed the cut but felt that experience will pay huge dividends down the road.
"It’s different going against the top players when they are good at defense and they do the same things you do," Veach said. "It really pushed me to work on new things, like my mid-range. Instead of 3s or just driving, I need to work on coming off screens and just shooting if they stay off, or different moves around the basket, finishing hard through contact."
Off the court, the pair are inseparable, which helps them both deal with the pressures of early recruitment. It also helps that both of their mothers played Division I basketball, Casey at Iowa State and Jodi at Indiana State.
"She knows what to say at the right times," Veach said of her mom. "She’s been through the process, so she knows what to expect with everything. She kind of talks me out of pressure, there’s no need to be nervous."
This isn't the first time Central DeWitt has seen a pair of young women take the reins of the program from the start.
Eleven years ago, another pair of freshmen emerged and led the Sabers to four winning seasons, including the program's last state tournament berth in 2011.
Jen Keitel and Lindsay Smith both scored over 1,200 points and grabbed over 500 rebounds in their careers before going on to play Division I basketball.
The similarities haven't gone unnoticed.
"I’ve had teachers come up and say, ‘Oh, the next Lindsay Smith and Jen Keitel,'" Meadows said. "It’s a little nerve-wracking to know that you’re being compared to some of the greatest players that have been here before, but at the same time, it’s super cool because you’re just being compared to them. I like it a lot."
It could be a lot of pressure to put on a pair of sophomores, but they don't seem fazed.
Like Smith and Keitel, Veach and Meadows have a chance to bring some more eyes to the program. It also leads to a trickle-down effect with the lower levels.
"It’s one of those things that we’re trying to do for this program, to have girls at a young age see that and strive for that and continue that repetition," Specht said. "It’s one thing to be up and down, year in and year out but you want to maintain and be consistent so you need stuff like that. I know they relish it, they want to leave their legacy and their mark just like (Smith and Keitel) did."
For all the good Veach and Meadows did, and for all the steps the Sabers took last year, they stumbled 45-17 to Cedar Rapids Xavier in a regional final.
It was a valuable experience.
"We learned that we’re going to have to step up our play to get to the next level, to get over the hump," Veach said. "I feel like they had more of a rhythm because they were used to the high-pressure situations and we’ve never really been in that."
The Sabers — who begin the season ranked 11th in Class 4A — will be tested this year, their final season in the Wamac before joining the Mississippi Athletic Conference next winter.
Included on Central DeWitt's schedule is two games against Class 4A runner-up Marion, one against 3A state champion Center Point-Urbana and a pair against rival and 12th-ranked Maquoketa.
They welcome the challenge the year presents.
"It’s only going to make us better," Veach said. "I like playing tougher teams. I would rather play a hard game and lose than play an easy game and win by a lot because it makes us better as a team."
The end goal is a trip to Des Moines.
Keitel and Smith reached the state tournament as seniors. Meadows and Veach have three years to try and reach Wells Fargo Arena, but they'd like to do it sooner rather than later, and as many times as possible.
And if they do, it will be like everything else they do — together.
"I was looking up at our state banners and the last one was 2011, so nine years ago and I just think it would be super cool to put a 2020 one up there," Meadows said.
"I think that would shock our community and all the teams around us because a lot of people don’t think we can do it. But I know that all of our players know we can do it and our coaches know we can do it."