HOBART | If you think a jam-packed, Motley Crue-loud Hobart gymnasium on a sectional Saturday night had LaPorte's Nicole Konieczny nervous, think again.
Playing for such large stakes against the powerful Merrillville Pirates only motivated the freshman guard, who perfectly wears No. 3, just like Dale Earnhardt's car.
As a 6-year-old, Konieczny raced a Quarter Midget race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She was the only girl in the race.
For three years, she raced Go-Karts and Quarter Midgets.
“She did well in a male-dominated sport,” said Debbie Konieczny, Nicole's mother. Her father, Doug, is an assistant coach for Skeeter Heath's Slicers.
“She loved the competition,” Debbie continued.
Many of LaPorte's fans wore an orange T-Shirt with a No. 3 on the chest. For some it was likely supporting Konieczny. For others it is the program's philosophy.
In their home gym are many signs with a 3 on it, one for every trey the Slicers have hit. Yes, Konieczny can hit a lot of 3s. But that isn't why she picked the number.
“When she started playing basketball, I had three kids,” Debbie said. “So she picked 3. Her brothers wear No. 3, too.”
She scored 22 in LaPorte's 48-45 win over the Pirates in the regular season, which helped the Slicers win their first Duneland Athletic Conference title.
It was much tougher on this night. No points, five steals and four rebounds. It doesn't mean Konieczny isn't a great player, because she is.
Big props have to go out to Merrillville's Audrianna Downs whose defense was choking.
The Pirates' team defense was top-shelf, too. Only five 3s were connected in this game. It just wasn't enough.
LaPorte's Slicers should not hold their heads down, even after the 56-49 loss. This is a young team with a lot of promise.
Senior Jaclyn Heath went out a winner with 16 points and great guard play. This should not be her final high school game. I expect to see her play again in Kentucky and Indianapolis this June.
“I know Nicole really wanted to win this game,” Debbie said before tipoff. “She was really close to the seniors, they were great friends.”
Konieczny had tears all over her face after the game. Her competitive spirit took over.
“I let my team down, I feel terrible,” she said. “I needed to step up and I didn't. They took everything away. I had opportunities and I didn't make them.”
Coach Heath knew her thoughts. He, too, knew she was wrong.
“We wouldn't be where we're at without the year she had,” Heath said of Konieczny. “She feels the way she does because of how dedicated she is. I know she'll use this in the off season to get better and I know she will.”