Though recruited by the University of Iowa to play softball, Jeannie Demers instead seized the opportunity to play two sports at Division III Buena Vista University, a decision that led her to set records on the hardwood that stand nearly 30 years later.
In early 1980s Iowa, high schools were still playing half-court six-on-six basketball when Demers left small Albert City-Truesdale High School to make the transition to the full-court five-on-five game being played in college. The 5-foot-5 guard, who honed her shooting on her family’s 120-acre corn and soybean farm, figured it out, though, to finish with an NCAA Division III freshman record of 645 points.
“She had an uncanny ability to shoot the basketball from just about any angle, balanced or unbalanced, driving or jump shot,” former teammate Julie Quirin says.
Entering her senior season, Demers was within sight of the NCAA collegiate record of 3,115 points, held by Drake University’s Lorri Bauman.
“I guess you could say I never saw a shot I didn’t like. … The great thing was I had talented, athletic teammates that could score, as well,” says Demers, whose married name is Henningsen.
She broke the Division III points record early in the year. The pressure on her increased and a frenzy built around the team’s final home game Feb. 24, 1987, with the collegiate points record in reach.
“The gym was pretty much packed, and we had cameras from all over that were there,” Quirin said. “We weren’t having a great season, but this was something the whole team was focused on, helping Jeannie get the record.”
Trailing late in the game against William Penn College, head coach John Naughton called timeout.
“They started setting all the plays for me,” Henningsen says. “I ended up scoring 39 points to break it. They stopped the game, and students threw toilet paper to celebrate. It got kind of crazy.”
She added to the record over the last two away games to finish with 3,171 points.
As a two-sport athlete, Demers was the third baseman on the 1984 NCAA championship softball team, which is the only team in any sport at Buena Vista to win an NCAA team championship.
Two sports didn’t keep her away from the books, either, as she graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a degree in education. In 1999, she was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
A longtime elementary school teacher, Henningsen recently became principal of the elementary and middle school in the Alta-Aurelia Community School District in Iowa, in addition to having been head volleyball coach at Alta-Aurelia High School for nearly 20 years.
Jeannie married her high school sweetheart, Mark Henningsen, a former men’s basketball player at Buena Vista, shortly after graduation in 1987. The couple have two children — Jordan and Jalen — who also had record-setting careers at Buena Vista.
Jordan is third all time among Buena Vista women’s volleyball team members with 1,300 career digs and is now an assistant volleyball coach at Franklin College in Indiana. Jalen completed his senior season as a wide receiver for the Beavers football team in 2016 and set school records for career receptions and receiving yards.