Whitney Smetana finally realizes she's got game and she's slowly gaining the confidence to back it up.
Smetana's development on the basketball court has paralleled the success of the Crosby-Ironton Rangers. As the sophomore struggled to discover her talent, the Rangers struggled to find victories.
But a classic coaching strategy transformed Smetana into a dominant force in the paint.
"I actually pulled her out of the game when we first played Detroit Lakes (a 61-21 loss Dec. 7) and she watched the whole fourth quarter," said Rangers coach Randy Swanhorst. "The next game, I don't know whether she was out to prove a point, or if she was just mad at me. She started to break out against Virginia and then the next game against Park Rapids."
Against Virginia Dec. 10, Smetana had a modest six points and seven rebounds, but it was a start of something big.
"Since then she's continually gained confidence and she realizes if she works hard and moves her feet, she can get her hand on every rebound," Swanhorst said. "She's now looking to score. She's starting to apply the footwork and tools that we've worked on."
In a rematch against Detroit Lakes Jan. 25, Smetana scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a 57-53 victory.
"It was a case where they definitely took Whitney lightly," said Swanhorst. "After the game there was nothing but praise for her. Their coach made a point to go and talk to her. She really stuck around the basket and was aggressive to the basket. She put in some shots that brought everyone off their feet. She surprised herself."
The 6-foot-2 post added 13 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to Eveleth-Gilbert Jan. 26, but credited the team's defense for the victory against Detroit Lakes.
"Our defense was great," Smetana said. "That's what we rely on. We've had trouble shooting the ball and that's what gave us that win.
"Boxing out was a big part too. Whenever they were shooting from the free-throw line and they missed I got most of the rebounds.
"I was able to get my points because we have a play where my teammates lob the ball to me. My teammates just gave me the ball."
The sophomore is averaging 10.9 points and 11.6 rebounds. In 17 games she has blocked 66 shots and has eight double-doubles.
"Last year, I averaged something like one point a game," Smetana said. "Now I'm averaging in double figures. I never thought I would be able to do that.
"It started against Virginia. When we went up there, that was the start. Then we went to Park Rapids and I scored 17 points and everyone was telling me I could do this every game."
Swanhorst has enjoyed watching Smetana's development, but he likes the look in her eyes as the sophomore realizes what she's capable of doing. There are still things Smetana needs to work on, but she and her coach have three years to work on them.
"I think she's starting to realize how basketball can open things up for her," Swanhorst said. "Now the college level is certainly obtainable. What level of college is up to her."
Other notable performances:
Basketball -- Pillager's Kayla Bell had 19 points and three assists in a loss to Sebeka; 11 points, three steals and a blocked shot in a victory over Verndale; and nine points and five assists in a loss to Pequot Lakes.
Verndale's Kayla White had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Pillager and 20 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Menahga.
Wadena-Deer Creek's Kerby Johnson scored 25 points in a loss to Long Prairie-Grey Eagle.
Julie Redebaugh collected 17 points and five rebounds in a loss to Albany and 16 points in a victory over Pillager.
Pierz's Shiela Stegora had 22 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Kimball and 23 points, seven steals, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Howard Lake.
Becky Anderson of Little Falls scored 18 points in a victory over Staples-Motley and 15 in a loss to Rocori.
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