At this time last year, Rapid City Christian girls' basketball player Olivia Kieffer was missing her home on the basketball court.
The then seventh grader was putting the start to her varsity career on hold, a back injury sidelined her and put her through a grueling physical therapy program.
She's proven to be worth the wait.
Now in eighth grade, Kieffer has been lighting up the scoreboard for the Lady Comets, which included last weekend.
Thursday in a 62-54 win over Wall she scored 41 points, including 22 in the fourth quarter, and Saturday against Jones County she dropped 24 points in a 50-17 win in the Kadoka Classic.
Still, she remembers the feelings from last year. She remembers being forced to watch, and not play, the game she loves so much.
"It’s good to be back, I was pretty bummed last year," she said. "It was really disappointing, there’s been a lot of work and physical therapy put into that. It’s a lot better, it’s strong now. I’m strengthening my core now so it doesn’t happen again."
She isn't sure how she injured her back, saying that it had been hurting for a time before getting an MRI that showed a break. It would be hard to tell that she is recovering from such a serious injury, as she's often seen embracing contact and falling hard on the floor after driving the ball to the hoop.
In her mind, her age and injury history don't matter. Basketball is basketball, and there's only one way to play it.
"I think that there’s only one way to play basketball, and that’s hard," she said. "Part of that, for me, is making sure my core is strong so if embracing contact or hitting the floor, you should be good. That is motivation for me to do physical therapy so I can get a strong core so I’m okay with hitting the floor."
It's a mentality that Christian coach A.J. Trennepohl said he can't take responsibility for. Some things are out of the coaches' hands.
"She’s aggressive, and that’s hard to teach," he said. "Being that aggressive, you’re going to be on the floor but she’s also getting to the free throw line six, seven, eight times a game and making a high percentage of those. She has a good knowledge of the game for an eighth grader who hasn’t played varsity basketball until this year but she’s always played at a high level, always played up."
Kieffer said it's her experience playing AAU basketball in the summer that has made her transition to varsity so seamless. Since she can remember, she's been playing against girls who were older, bigger and stronger than her.
That experience has also taught her that no moment is too big. Trennepohl said that was evident against Wall when more than half of her 41 points came in the fourth quarter.
"She doesn’t fear shooting. To be able to score when you need to score is hard to teach," he said. "She isn’t afraid of a moment, she wants the ball in her hands and that’s important to have from your best scorer."
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Being the best scorer has also put leadership responsibilities on the shoulders of the eighth grader. Trennepohl said she's embraced that responsibilities by not letting her natural ability do the talking in practice.
"She leads real quietly. She’s so well respected from her teammates because she’s so humble in her abilities," he said. "She gets along with everybody and it helps when she performs in practice too. Everyone here gets to see it everyday, she’s going to win drills and help her team win."
Christian, 3-4, begins the West River Tournament today with a matchup on the road against Newell. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Other athletes considered:
Alejandro Rama, Red Cloud boys' basketball: Rama had one of the top statistical games of the season, as he scored 44 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Crusaders avenged their Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament loss to rival Pine Ridge 68-65 Thursday.
He followed that up with a 31 point, 13 rebound night against Belle Fourche Saturday in a 51-40 win.
Jestyn Woodward, Custer wrestling: Woodward came out the winner of the 113-pound division over the weekend at the Mid-Dakota Monster Invitational in Presho.
Woodward bested teammate Jacob Brunner by a 6-2 decision.
Jaedyn Finkbeiner, New Underwood girls' basketball: Finkbeiner contributed points and rebounds as the Lady Tigers got two wins over the weekend.
She scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds as New Underwood topped Philip 55-32 Thursday and responded with a 18 point, 13 rebound performance in a Friday win over Jones County 64-21.
Cael Larson, Rapid City Central wrestling: Larson showed up big for the Cobblers, winning the 113-pound title at the Bismarck Rotary in North Dakota over the weekend.
Larson edged out Kelby Armstrong of Minot, North Dakota in a 8-6 decision for the title.
Ryan Nolan, Rushmore Thunder hockey: Nolan scored nine points in two games as the Thunder rolled by the Yankton Bucks over the weekend.
Saturday night he had a hat-trick with three goals, and had two assists in a 10-0 win. He followed that up Sunday with another hat-trick and a assist in a 11-2 win.