Kayla Belles didn’t quite know what to expect.
After losing several key performers from a record season that was capped by a trip to the Class C state semifinals at Breslin Center, the junior post player wasn’t quite sure if things would be the same this winter for the Ithaca girls basketball team.
But those early concerns have been erased.
The success has continued for the Yellowjackets (13-3) this winter and Belles is one of the key reasons why the program is closing in on a third straight outright TVC West title.
“At the beginning we wanted to prove to everybody that we were going to work hard enough to bring back (the success) we had last year,” said Belles of a team that has three freshmen playing roles. “At first we were working really hard to try to develop skills as a team that we lost from last year. I think what we’ve done this year has definitely shown everybody that we came ready to work and coach has really helped push us along.
“It’s just been so amazing to see everyone work so hard to keep the winning streak for Ithaca going.”
The 6-foot-3 Belles, a Division I prospect who is being pursued by Michigan State, Michigan, BYU and Central Michigan, has had a big part in transforming a once struggling Ithaca girls program into a contender since her arrival as a freshman. Belles guided the Yellowjackets to a 45-6 mark her first two seasons and knew she needed to step up for the Yellowjackets to build off back-to-back 20-plus win seasons. And the two-time Associated Press first team Class C all-state selection has done that and is averaging a double-double for Ithaca as part of another big season.
“Everybody sees how great she is on Tuesday and Friday nights, but she works harder than anybody I’ve ever coached,” said first-year Ithaca coach Ty Warczinsky, who spent the last two seasons coaching against Belles. “Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays and just in the offseason as well and in the gym shooting – she really works to be great. It’s some God-given talent for sure, but she’s doing the most with the talent she’s been given.
“When your best player works that hard and is also all about the team and not her own numbers or chasing her own stats, which just makes life easy as a coach. That really defines Kayla. She’s all about the team and works so hard in practice and stuff. You can just point to that carrying over in the games.”
Belles, who surpassed 1,000 career points last month in a win over Saginaw Valley Lutheran, has worked on expanding her game this season in preparation for her basketball future. The focus the last two seasons for her have been on the post and rebounding. Belles is starting to expand her range and play more than just in the post.
“My skills and my range — I just need to keep pushing myself to get better because I have a bigger level to go to after this,” Belles said. “I don’t want to just plateau and not do anything new so that when I get to college I’m not not as good as they saw me to be. I try to keep improving on every aspect of the game so when I get to college, wherever I go, that I can be an asset to them as much as I tried to be here at Ithaca.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.