The contributions from sophomore Hannah Love have been countless this year for the North Idaho College women’s basketball team.
Many of them can be tracked statistically. But what brings perhaps the biggest smile to coach Chris Carlson’s face is the emotional leadership the former West Valley standout brings.
As the NIC players come to the bench after pregame warmups, each gives double high-fives to Carlson and his wife, Carey, his assistant coach.
It’s been the ritual this year that Love is the last player to exchange double high-fives with her coaches. Then when she’s done, the screaming begins. Literally. Orchestrated by Love, she and her teammates huddle up and they start screaming.
They say nothing in particular. It’s just out-and-out hollering.
Love and the Cardinals hope to do a lot of hollering next week at the NJCAA tournament in Salina, Kan. NIC (28-4), seeded 12th and an at-large qualifier, opens against Williston State (30-3) Monday at 2:30 PDT.
NIC is two years removed from winning its first national championship. None of the current Cardinals were connected with that team. NIC is making its fourth trip to nationals in five years, and the Cards aren’t taking a vacation approach to the trip.
Certainly not Love, who has gone through quite the transformation since arriving from WV.
Love was a big fish in a small pool at WV. She discovered rather quickly that what she accomplished in high school was of little relevance in college.
She went from averaging 17 points and double-digit rebounds to seeing limited playing time as a freshman last year. And she had to play a position she was unfamiliar with and undersized for at 5-foot-11. She had to play a power forward, learning to guard players 2 to 3 inches taller.
“At West Valley, I wanted to be out on the wing and wanted nothing to do with being inside,” Love said.
Although Love didn’t play much last year, she appreciated the time to adapt.
“It was a good adjustment I had to make for myself,” Love said. “It gave me time to get better. It was a big eye opener. When I came here I didn’t have a name for myself.”
She does now.
Love has averaged 7.1 points per game on a team loaded with offensive balance. Seven players average between 10.5 and six. She also pulls down six rebounds per game.
She was All-Scenic West Athletic Conference honorable mention and was a SWAC all-tournament selection.
“I didn’t see her being as effective this season as she has been,” Chris Carlson said. “She showed bits and pieces of what she’s become last year. She’s been a steady, efficient player. She’s been our emotional leader. She’s really risen.”
Carlson said Love has a high basketball IQ.
“She has quick instinctual attack movements,” Carlson said.
Competition at her position has been invaluable, too, Carlson said. Early in the season, freshman Renae Mokrzycki of Cranbourne, Australia, pushed Love.
“That’s really brought the best out of Hannah,” Carlson said. “They just compete so hard in practice against each other.”
Love plans to move on to a four-year school and play. Just where is the big question. It’s not something she’s concerned about now, though.
“She’ll definitely land somewhere,” Carlson said. “She’s too good not to go on and play.”
Depth is a big piece of NIC’s success. Carlson uses 10 players.
“We’re two-deep at every position,” he said. “The way I look at it all five of our bench kids are our sixth man. There have been times they’ve outplayed the starters.”
NIC’s opener is a rematch. The Cards played Williston the third game of the season in South Dakota. NIC won 58-46.
Should NIC get past Williston, it would play Shelton State (32-0).
Can NIC do what it did two years ago?
“It will take a tremendous effort but I think we can beat any team in the country,” Carlson said.
“I think we can go all the way,” she said. “We’re not just going for one game – we’re going to win it.”