As the lone senior on the floor, Grace Dille has to set the tone for Holyoke girls basketball. To do that, she and coach John Baumgartner agree that she needs to play at another level.
She needs to go into beast mode.
She has done that this year and the Dragons have been early benefits of her play. The team is 4-0 and came in at No. 9 in the Class 2A CHSAANow.com girls basketball rankings this week.
And Lille's contributions have been a major factor. She is averaging just under 14 points and pulling down nearly 19 rebounds per game. She attacks the glass with such ferocity and it has generated overwhelmingly positive results for her team.
"I always have to check and make sure our stat keepers are doing a good job and that it’s really happening," Baumgartner said. "My assistant is always telling me that we need to get someone other than Grace always on the boards. She put it down as one of her goals that she wanted to average a double-double and average 15 rebounds this year."
She is well on pace.
And the team's success is a nice change. Just two years ago, the Dragons finished 7-13. That was coming off the heels of a 9-11 year. They were trending in the wrong direction so a change was made and Baumgartner took over as the girls coach. For 16 years, he was the boys coach and led them to a few runner-up finishes and even won a state title in 2010.
The task of rebuilding the girls program was going to be tough, but having someone like Dille always helps the process.
He accomplishments reach further than just the basketball court. She is a four-sport athlete for Holyoke. On top of basketball, she also plays on the volleyball and girls golf teams and even runs track.
A team-oriented girl, she found golf to be more unique in the sense that she felt it was focused more on her as an individual.
"It’s more of an individual game, but my teammates help me become a better player," she said. "It’s totally different than running relays or playing with a team."
Baumgartner sees the success she has on the basketball court as a result of her participation in other sports. In her volleyball career, she totaled 867 kills. As a runner for the track team, she competed in the 400- and 800-meter runs as well as two relays and the long jump.
Her willingness to be competitive all year long has no doubt played a part of her basketball success.
"I think volleyball is great for her footwork and her jumping ability has been great," Baumgartner said. "Her running in track has just helped her get up and down the floor. I think she can outrun any big in our league right now.”
And the team as a whole has been more successful because of her versatility. And that's the point. The Dragons hadn't been a successful team until a turnaround last season. But now they're not just turning around, they're competitive. And that is a welcome change for Dille.
"It’s really cool because I didn’t know that it was going to be possible with adapting to new coaches," she said. "This year we just have a click that we haven’t had before. It’s fun to see what new things we can do and what we can accomplish."
Dille has been the unquestioned leader on the floor and a vital part of that has been getting others involved. This is not a one-player show. That was more the case three years ago and the outcome was a higher loss count.
No matter how much she's scoring or rebounding, Dille's greatest value to the team is the ability to open chances for her teammates.
"Obviously Emily Jeldon, our point guard," Baumgartner said. "She has done a great job of getting her the ball when she needs to get the ball. And Emily feeds off her. They were voted by their teammates as co-captains. So I have a senior who is a co-captain and a sophomore and then one junior, Kaylee Camblin.
"(Kaylee) and Grace bang against each other in practice quite a bit. So I think she’s found those two and Taeryn (Trumper) another sophomore. They all realize it’s about more than just themselves, it’s about the team."
And the team is looking to do big things. For high school kids, winning comes with the willingness to constantly improve as an overall athlete, not just at skill-set for a single sport.
Baumgartner pointed out that not a lot of kids are willing to fit for the rebounding numbers that Dille has amassed early in the season. But her desire to excel at a tough aspect of the game has made the Dragons a better team. She has no problem going into beast mode. And the results are showing in the standings.