VALDERS- Overcoming adversity isn’t anything new for Valders’ Conner Grall.
The senior guard has been a fixture on the Vikings’ varsity roster since her freshman season when the team went 3-20.
Ready to take her game to the next level, Grall missed her entire sophomore season due to an ACL tear. While discouraging, it provided Grall with a renewed passion having seen her team go 11-14 in her absence.
“Sitting out was the hardest part,” Grall said. “Just watching and when people get mad at stupid stuff, and I’m there dying to be in that position. It was just watching that sucked. I definitely learned how much I love the game and how much it means. I definitely took it for granted before that.”
Valders’ coach Dan Wagner says having Grall playing at a high level was a big part of the Vikings reaching the sectional finals last season. Grall led the now defunct Olympian Conference in scoring at 13.1 points per game en route to being named OC Player of the Year.
“Conner brings a wealth of experience and talent to our team,” Wagner said. “She’s an excellent scorer. She’s a team player. She does a great job rebounding the ball, and most importantly she’s been a start since she was a freshman and helps us through any challenge we face.”
Grall’s leadership was needed early on last season when Valders started the year 5-4. After winning 14 games in two years, the Vikings closed out the season on a 15-3 run to finish 20-7 and were just five points away from a berth at state.
“It was about the team bonding,” Grall said of the early season slump. “Once we got the team chemistry down, we were unstoppable. All of a sudden we just clicked, found a rotation that worked and after that no one could stop us.”
With Grall at the helm, she’s helped create excitement around the program.
“Last year she was a huge part of the confidence we built,” Wagner said. “It makes kids, fans and players and coaches excited to watch Valders basketball.”
Wagner says Grall has always shown an ability to score, but as a junior she stepped up on the defensive end, which made her an all-around threat to teams.
“I thought her commitment to defend help solidify the team’s strength in staying in games,” Wagner said. “Then just her natural ability to score helped us get through some of the droughts we got in. She’s just a natural at scoring. She’s a true scorer.”
The success of last year has the Vikings’ program looking up, according to Wagner.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Wagner said. “You got to do it as a team. Anyone that has been around long enough knows you can’t do it with just one scorer. We’re thankful to have Conner, but we don’t hang our hat on just her.
“Last year gave us a lot of hunger. It was really fun so we want to be back to that. It was also very humbling the way we started (this season) playing some tough competition and losing three of our first four. It reminds us we’re at the beginning of this new journey.”
Because of the success of a season ago, Valders has had to adjust to life as the favorite in most games.
“It’s definitely easier being the underdog,” Grall said. “Now that we have the weight on our shoulders, I think it’ll be good challenge for us to still do good despite that target on our back.”
Grall says last year taught her and her teammates a valuable lesson.
“When you learn how to win,” Grall said. “That’s not something that you forget.”