Madessa Collins wasn’t fully aware of the magnitude of what she was watching at the Kohl Center a decade ago, but she knew it was exciting.
Collins twice made trips to Madison — once as a second-grader and the other as a third-grader — to watch her older brother Jimmy Whitehead try to win a WIAA Division 3 state championship with his Aquinas High School basketball teammates.
She knew the games were important because they were being played at a venue like the Kohl Center, and she knew they were bigger than those played at the Reinhart Athletic Complex because there were a lot more people.
“I didn’t really understand what state was,” Collins said. “I just kept yelling for Jimmy. That’s what I was there for.”
The roles will be reversed this weekend — for the second straight year — when Whitehead travels to watch Collins play for a state championship. He was there to watch her win a silver medal at last year’s Division 5 state tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay, and he hopes to see her walk away with gold this time.
“When he played, he won gold first and then silver,” Collins said. “I want to reverse that.”
Whitehead averaged 17 points and five rebounds over four state games as the Blugolds beat Whitefish Bay Dominican and Iola-Scandinavia in 2008 before topping Manitowoc Roncalli and losing to Racine St. Catherine’s in 2009.
Collins was there to see all of it.
“What I remember was that there were times where she seemed more excited about what was happening than I was,” said Whitehead, who attends Metropolitan State and referees basketball games in the Minneapolis area. “She was excited to watch her big brother play. It’s surreal for me to watch her play in those kinds of games now.”
Whitehead, who played basketball Minnesota State-Mankato and UW-Stout, will make the trip with his fiance, Ashley, 2-year-old daughter Memphis and 3-week-old son, Milan.
The fans had spilled onto the court at Central High School’s Mark Sutton Memorial Gymnasium last Saturday.
That will, according to Whitehead, be a small percentage of family in the stands to watch Collins play.
“I can’t even think of all the people going,” Whitehead said after listing a few relatives.
Whitehead describes his younger sister’s game as “fierce.”
Collins, a Viterbo University recruit, is averaging 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game but has built her reputation more around defense. She is relentless in the post and rarely caught out of position.
Aquinas girls coach Dave Donarski remembers Collins as part of the entourage there to watch Whitehead and the Blugolds because he was an assistant coach to Rick Schneider during those seasons.
“I didn’t even know she was into basketball at that time,” Donarski said. “She was a big athletic kid who was into karate, and I never would have envisioned she’d get this chance just like her brother did.
“She has always idolized her brother, and I don’t blame her. This is a special thing for them.”