The trepidation Katie Andersen felt her first season playing on the Kapaun Mount Carmel basketball team was expected. She was the lone freshman starter with four senior starters.
“I was really petrified,” said Andersen, now a senior. “It was really tough at first.… I didn’t have any playing time and then I slowly built up. I took a junior’s (starting) spot, and I think there was a lot of, I don’t want to say there was bad blood. It’s just, you know how it usually is. A junior will be jealous of a freshman taking time.”
Andersen’s experience is not abnormal, but she wasn’t about to treat any young athlete in a similar fashion. So when it appeared, even before the season, that freshman Sam Bachrodt would be a starting guard alongside Andersen, one of the first to embrace her was Andersen.
“I just welcomed her,” Andersen said.
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Players such as Bachrodt and Maize freshman starter Keiryn Swenson are in ideal situations – starting on teams with a senior who has been in the same situation.
Swenson’s mentor is senior McKenzie Hartzog, who started varsity volleyball, basketball and soccer as a freshman.
“I was in their place once , too,” Hartzog said. “You’re really scared when you’re playing up as a freshman. You want the encouragement that you’re doing OK.”
She reached out to Swenson during volleyball season, when Swenson also was a starter.
“She’s been through all of this, so of course she has good advice,” Swenson said. “She helps me all the time. It never gets old. I just want to get better…. I’m going to have a hard time without her next year. She’s my role model. She helps me through everything. She’s nice about it and she never gets bothered by me.”
Bachrodt and Andersen have also built a relationship.
“She’s helped me a lot,” Bachrodt said. “She helps me a lot in practice. She shows me what to do. She helps me throughout games, talks to me, motivates me.”
The transition to varsity for both Swenson and Bachrodt has been eased by their willingness to learn, as well as their skill. Swenson is Maize’s primary post player, and she plays strong defense and scores consistently, averaging 11.1 points which is 6-1.
Bachrodt can play the point for Kapaun (7-1) and also has a sweet shot. She is third on the team in scoring (7.1 points), behind Andersen and sophomore Sydney Kuhn.
“The thing with Sam is, she’s hit critical shots we’ve needed in big games,” Andersen said. “Yeah, she’s a freshman, but she really doesn’t play like one. In the summer, she plays probably even better competition.”
Young players will make mistakes, though. It could be a failure to set a screen or box out, maybe an errant pass.
But Maize coach Jerrod Handy reminds his team to be patient with the young players.
“Hey, they’ll make mistakes,” said Handy, whose daughter, Daley, also is a freshman on varsity. “We talk in practice, ‘we need everybody on the court to feel like they are a part of a team and everybody will make mistakes’.… With the younger players, I think there’s a fear of making mistakes and someone getting on them. It doesn’t happen much.”
Hartzog added: “Everyone has their fair share of mistakes. When you help them correct them in an encouraging way, it helps them to go out and correct them and not make the mistake anymore.”
It’s easier to be helpful for Andersen and Hartzog because they are intent on winning and earning a state tournament berth — and young players such as Bachrodt and Swenson could help them achieve that.
“I know it takes everyone on the court to win,” Hartzog said. “We have to play together. By them having a better experience during the season, it will help us win the big game at the end of the season.”