Female Area Athlete of the Week: Waytashek scores from everywhere for shorthanded Pierz
Kylie Waytashek was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in her young career Tuesday, Feb. 4, when the Pierz Pioneers faced the Mora Mustangs.
The eighth-grader said she felt a little nervous, but was excited about the opportunity.
“I felt really confident coming into the game,” Waytashek said. “I was running the floor well and hitting my shots. I was kind of nervous going in, but I was confident too, to show what I can do.”
She responded with a game-high 20 points in a 58-45 win for the Pioneers.
Three nights later, Waytashek finished with 17 points in a win over St. Cloud Cathedral.
“My teammates were seeing me and I was hitting my shots,” Waytashek said. “We were playing really well together.”
Waytashek scores in multiple ways. She shoots the 3-point shot at a decent clip. She is second on the team in 3-pointers made.
When a smaller defender guards Waytashek, she can score in the post.
“It feels nice to know that I can move around and play different positions on the court,” Waytashek said of her versatility. “If I have someone taller on me I can go hit the 3. If there is someone shorter than me I usually go down to the post because it’s somewhere I can get an easy bucket.”
Pierz’s head coach Matt Poepping echoes what Waytashek says about her versatility.
“We have been getting her in different situations based on who is guarding her,” Poepping said. “It’s great to have her around because you know you will have her around for a couple more years, so you can build the younger girls around her.
“As a coach, it’s so important because it’s harder to defend and harder to gameplan against and if you have one of those girls it’s hard for them to prepare for you. We are trying to get all of our girls to be versatile.”
Waytashek currently stands as the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer averaging a little over 10 points a game. As an eighth-grader, it can be hard to bring consistent production at the varsity level. Waytashek has had no problem.
“It’s really fun and cool because, like, no one else at Pierz has done this before,” Waytashek said.
The older Pierz players on the team try to make it easier for Waytashek. She played a little varsity as a seventh-grader, so it’s been easier for her this year.
“I get along with everyone pretty well,” Waytashek said. “Last year, I was new so I didn’t really talk to any of them. But this year I have got more comfortable with everybody and I’m good friends with them.”
Inserting Waytashek into the starting lineup was something Poepping did not know he was going to do this season.
“With a lot of girls coming back from last year we did not think she would be a starter,” Poepping said. “But with a lot of girls sick and some girls got injured she stepped in the starting rotation and hasn’t given it up and her play has shown that she belongs.”
Junior Courtney Strohmeier is the leading scorer for Pierz, averaging almost 11 points a game. Waytashek and Strohmeier have built a good relationship on the court despite being four years apart in school.
“Me and Courtney get along pretty well. We play well together and we count on her because she is a really good 3-point shooter,” Waytashek said.
Waytashek’s favorite spots on the floor are the corners where she makes most of her 3s. Poepping loves using her along the baseline in the zone because she hits the short corner shot with regularity. She also likes getting to the wings because it’s easier for her to drive and find her teammates.
“I can see the floor well,” Waytashek said of her strengths. “I like to score, but I have to pass to everyone so we can play as a team.”
Pierz owned a 13-8 record after last week's games. As they head into postseason play, Waytashek hopes they can host a playoff game and win one, too.
“We have been battling some sickness lately,” Poepping said. “The girls have been stepping up as we go, so hopefully we get some consistency as we go to end the year.”
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Rylie Hirschey, Pine-River-Backus, scored 24 points against Upsala.
Lily Peterson, Crosby-Ironton, scored 24 points against Park Rapids, 20 points against Aitkin and 18 points against Mesabi East.
Kennedy Gravelle, Wadena-Deer Creek, scored 15 points in its upset win over the Henning Hornets.
Maci Martini, Pequot Lakes, scored 16 points against Staples-Motley and 23 points against Perham.
Ramsey Tulenchik, Pine River-Backus, scored 21 points against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.
Gymnastics: Maddie Dehn, Little Falls, finished second in the all-around at the Granite Ridge Conference meet.
Hockey: Caitlyn Gutzman, Northern Lakes, scored two goals in a Section 6-1A Quarterfinal win.
Year: 8th grader
Highlights: Finished with 20 points against Mora and 17 against St. Cloud Cathedral