On the tips of her fingers
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Kali Peschel is only in her first year on the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, but she’s been performing in front of big crowds for years, sometimes while spinning two basketballs simultaneously on her fingertips.
Peschel began playing competitively as a member of the Alexandria Aces Basketball Performance Team when she was in fourth grade, and growing up in Sauk Centre, Minn. Now in its 23rd season, the group began as a ball-handling attraction and has progressed into one of the top halftime acts in the NCAA and NBA.
The Aces are coached by Larry Novotny, former basketball trick artist who performed his basketball magic across much of the U.S. in the 1970's and 80's. The Aces are comprised of boys and girls, ages 5 to 12. Their show, which includes dribbling, juggling, and spinning feats, has been seen by more than 3 million fans across the United States and Canada.
"Kids get comfortable in front of crowds, and they are able to socialize easily," Peschel says. "You travel nationally and it's a huge deal. They will take road trips to Auburn, Alabama, Florida State, Florida."
And Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Aces performed last season at halftime of the Iowa-Ohio State men's basketball game in January. Peschel was no longer with the group by then, but she did get "held back" as a seventh-grader to help train the younger "spinners."
"Fundamental-wise, having a ball in your hand is never a bad thing," Peschel says. "It helps a ton for eye-hand coordination. I could dribble with my knees and do a two-ball drill."
For a self-proclaimed homebody living 6 1/2 hours from her central Minnesota home, the UI was a great fit for Peschel. She says her schedule is so busy and her teammates are "so awesome" that she hasn't missed home at all. The reason she became a Hawkeye in the first place was because of head coach Lisa Bluder and her staff.
"When I first came here on my visit I didn't have an offer," Peschel says. "I got an offer the next time I visited and I committed the day I got the offer—I was absolutely thrilled. The coaches are so personal and they made me feel so comfortable on campus, and they said this could be a home away from home."
Bluder said Peschel will play an important role for the team, even in her first season.
"She can play a two, three, or four for us," says Bluder. "I expect that she is going to be in the mix of things right away. She is a very good player, and we need to have her on the floor, even as a freshman."
And if she ever diagrams a play that calls for someone to dribble two balls at once while spinning another on her toe, she’s set.