On the Tupper Lake girls basketball team, it's pretty clear who is the leader and top player - senior point guard Katie Stuart.
In her fourth and final year on varsity, Stuart is averaging 19 points per game, nine rebounds, 4.2 steals, three assists and 3.3 blocks.
"She is an all-around good player," Lumberjacks coach Jenn Cook said. "You know, you look at the stats at the end of the game and she takes care of everything. She works at both ends. She scores for us. She's one of our best defenders. She is our floor general, floor leader. She makes sure everyone is in the right place. It's a little bit of everything. I'm fortunate to get to watch her play every night."
Tupper Lake senior Katie Stuart is scoring 19 points per game this season to lead the Lumberjacks.
(Enterprise file photo — Mike Lynch)
Stuart first joined the varsity squad as a freshman. That year she spent many games as a bench player, but she also got her first experience as a starter, filling in at times for injured players. The next year, Stuart stepped into the starting lineup as a point guard and hasn't give up the spot since.
Those teams were solid both years, but last year the team really came into its own, winning the Section X, Class C title with a victory over Brushton-Moira at SUNY Potsdam. Stuart had 21 points in that game.
Last year's squad had a number of veteran players, including Sam Samford and Carley Aldridge, but those players all graduated. When the season started this year, there were a lot of question marks. That meant the pressure was really on Stuart to step to the forefront even more than she already had.
"We lost seven seniors last year, and I knew her leadership had to pick up and go to a new level this year," Cook said. "She's had to be a leader, pushing through adversity this year. We lost Lindsey Maroun to an injury for the season. She takes each of those things in stride and tries to be the leader she needs to be to get us to play well. We are a very, very young team. You know, we have four new starters that are stepping on the floor at any given time. So it's been a learning thing for her, but the team that we have, they're lucky to have her as their leader."
Stuart has always seen herself as a leader because of her position.
"I think as a point guard you have a large role on the team, no matter your age. I think you're the floor general, setting the pace of the game," she said. "You're either slowing everybody down or fast-breaking or whatever you need to do. And I think I've had that, probably since my sophomore year."
Stuart's play and leadership have helped to lead her team to a 9-7 record that included an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season. The team has struggled a bit as of late, but Stuart is expecting it to rebound in time for a successful playoff run. That's one of her many goals for the team that has two regular season games left.
"I definitely want to repeat as section champions like last year, definitely make it that far, have a winning season, have fun at the same time," she said.
In order to do that, Stuart said the team has to focus on its defense and have a couple other players step up on offense because other teams have really worked hard to shut down Stuart, often playing a box-and-one on her.
The Lumberjacks' 48-30 win over Parishville-Hopkinton in early January is a prime example of how good Stuart is. In that game, she had 30 points, the same amount as the other team combined. She also had 12 rebounds, six assists, five steals and three blocked shots.
Because of that strong play, Stuart is being recruited by numerous Division III colleges to play basketball next season. She hopes to make a decision on which school in the near future.
Stuart has excelled at basketball because of her hard work throughout the year. She started training for basketball shortly after last season ended and continued until the start of this season, only taking a few breaks for things such as this fall's soccer playoffs. In the summer, she played for the Lake Champlain Lakers in the AAU 16-and-over league. In the spring and fall, she often could be found working on her shot in the high school gym.
"The best thing I can say about her is: she's such a great player, but she's such a good kid," Cook said. "She's a leader for us on and off the court. She sets a great example for her teammates. You know, she's the epitome of what or how you get better. You do it by working in the off-season, not just from November to February.
"That kid will play basketball year-round and it shows, and that's what I'm trying to get these kids to understand, that you just don't get better playing during the season."