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Voyageur's Best Features of 2006

Girls Basketball

A career that started and ended with Barnum
by John Grones  |  March 7, 2006

As I watched the final minutes of the Cromwell Cardinals versus Barnum Bombers high school girls basketball game on Wednesday, March 1, the thought occured to me – they know.

The night belonged to a very excellent Barnum team which won the game 51-30, but it was also a special one for Cromwell’s senior guard, Kylee Smith. Kylee exited the game with just under two minutes remaining in the game to a standing ovation. It wasn’t just the Cromwell fans standing, but the Barnum fans, players and coaches.

They knew.

They knew, because they were there when a young Kylee Smith left her mark in a game four years ago. The game was at Barnum and Kylee, a ninth grader at the time, took on her first significant high school basketball challenge. She was asked to guard Barnum’s leading scorer, Nicole Switzer. Switzer was averaging over 20 points per game at the time and Kylee held her to just six points.

The best part – Cromwell upset Barnum on a night when another outstanding Barnum player, Justine Axtell, hit her 1,000th point.

This milestone would become an inspiration for Kylee, which she later shared when she scored her 1,000th career point.  

From that game on, Kylee established a work ethic second to none, and developed into one of the top players in Northeastern Minnesota. Her shot was feared by all opposing coaches and the reason why she was selected the Polar League MVP three times. She also led her team to the Minnesota state basketball tournament in 2004 and holds most of the statistical records at Cromwell High School.

These achievements and more are something to remember, but they are not the memories that entered my mind as I stood with everyone and cheered Kylee as those final seconds counted down.

For me, Kylee and her family have been special to me and my family. They are always very respectful and kind. Kylee has always demostrated an excellent attitude not only in sports, but in the classroom. She is a straight ‘A’ student and excels at everything she does.

Kylee was faced with the ultimate test this year. She had enjoyed two straight years of incredible team success. The team had back-to-back 20-plus win seasons, but this year would be different. Kylee would not only be faced with recovering from a knee injury, but also leading a team that was very young and inexperienced.

Early in the season, it was difficult to watch for many of us who had watched her play for so long. At times she was actually playing on one leg and the young players were making mistakes. As a coach, it was obvious she was discouraged, but somehow she held it all together.

Her coach Dave Foster shared that it was really frustrating. “I don’t know how she held her composure,” he said. “With her competitiveness, it had to be hard not to show her frustrations.”

Coach Foster added that Kylee always turned it into something encouraging. “The team really respected her effort and the way she treated them. She never, ever put herself above the team,” coach Foster concluded.

Another characteristic of Kylee that entered my mind as she jogged off the floor and hugged her coach was her ability to control a game. Every coach loves a player that becomes a coach themselves on the floor. This was true of Kylee.

Coach Foster really appreciated this and was always receptive to suggestions from his leader of the team. “She has a tremendous knowledge of the game,” he said. “She could see things on the floor and make adjustments. Add to that her ability to work with younger teammates.”

Working with her teammates was also something special. During these past three years, she has always led by example. She shot more than anyone before school ever started; she attended Saturday morning basketball where she helped the young people and volunteered to ref; she was always looking for a chance to make herself better.

This season, I had the opportunity to watch Kylee work with one of the eighth graders on a Sunday. Somehow she found out that I was opening the gym for a few of the boys this day. Kylee brought her teammate Ari and worked with her to improve her shot. She was not only patient, but gave tips that were insightful.

Ari would later cash in on a few outside shots that were results from that shooting session.

There isn’t any question that Kylee would make a great coach herself one day and I posed this question to her. She has thought about coaching and her soon-to-be college coach told her not to worry about it right away. “A coaching certificate does not take four years, so I can look into it more my third or fourth year,” she said.

Kylee does know one thing – she is going to play some more basketball. Kylee signed at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to play on the women’s team. Kylee’s fans are glad to hear that and are looking forward to four more years of her high-arcing three point shots.

Speaking of three-point shots, Kylee just missed the state record this year. She hit 102 and the record is 103.

Kylee’s okay with it. As usual, she noted that she would have rather pulled off the upset over Barnum. She also wanted me to mention that she was overwhelmed by the reaction of the Barnum fans. “It was pretty cool,” she added.

For Barnum fans, it was a special evening. Their team won and they watched a fine player end her career. For Kylee, it was a career that started with Barnum and ended with Barnum.

This article first appeared in the March 7 issue of the Voyageur Press.