Grinding with balance: Packer starting five is staying motivated and focused

Published 8:17 pm Monday, January 10, 2022

The winter sports season is a long and grueling journey, but the Austin girls basketball team is determined not to hit a lull in energy or a slump in motivation as it has set its eyes on some big goals.

The Packers are not only pursuing their third state tournament in a span of four years, they are also hoping to win their first conference title since 2004.

The prospects of a state berth will be decided in the postseason, but the chase of Big Nine title requires the team to show up focused and ready for every game on the slate.

“We practice hard and the varsity and JV teams push each other,” Austin junior Cassidy Shute said. “We’re around good people all day. Every single one of the girls in the gym wants to push each other. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, they’ll get after you. That’s very great to see. During games, making the other team take a bad shot and getting a stop motivates us towards offense.”

Shute is one of Austin’s five starters, who have all found ways to have a big impact on the team’s success. While senior point guard Hope Dudycha has had some big scoring games, she is also willing to share the wealth with her twin sister Emma Dudycha, Shute, Reana Schmitt and Olivia Walsh.

“Nobody is selfish on our team,” Schmitt said. “We pass up good shots for great shots. We’ve built such a great chemistry together by playing together over the summer. Cassidy, Olivia and I all play individual sports in the fall, but it’s fun in basketball because we don’t just rely on ourselves. We can rely on others as well.”

The Packers (10-1 overall) took their first loss of the season when they fell to St. Paul Como Park by a score of 74-69 on Saturday, but that loss may not have been a bad thing. The Packers had won eight of their first 10 games by at least 10 points, which meant the team wasn’t able to work on a lot of close game situations.

“They were a good matchup and we knew it would be a tough one,” Hope said. “Losing isn’t always a bad thing. More than likely we were going to lose eventually and there is a lot of pressure being undefeated. It was an exciting game, but it shows us that we’ve still got work to do.”

The loss gave Austin insight on what it needs to improve on and it also served as motivation for the rest of the season. Walsh said the team is now even more driven to accomplish their goals. Austin is nearly halfway through the conference schedule and it is one game up on Mankato East in the Big Nine chase.

The Packers beat the Cougars in overtime earlier this season.

“(The loss to Como Park) kind of keeps us in check. It helps remind us that nothing is going to come easy for us as we work towards our goals,” Walsh said. “Winning the conference would be the first goal on our checklist and that would be a big deal.”

Austin’s season may have officially started in November, but the team was hard at work throughout the summer in open gyms and on the AAU circuit.

“This is what we’ve been working for,” Hope said. “It’s our turn to be the seniors and we have the chance to do something good this year. It’s our last chance and it would be fun to get to state and make a run there.”

While Hope and Emma may play at the college level, it’s unlikely they’ll end up on the same team. The twin sisters are embracing their final year on the court together after playing countless minutes together over the years.

“I’m enjoying every minute of it,” Emma said. “Playing together is really fun and we find each other very well.”

Austin will host Winona at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.