The end of any basketball team’s bench can be a lonely, disconsolate experience — if you let it be.
Take Katy Ainslie’s initial experience at the University of Puget Sound.
Ainslie was an incoming freshman out of Eastlake High School in 2011-12, stuck behind Lindsay Layland, Sarah Stewart and Sha’Ran Lowe in the Loggers’ frontcourt pecking order. Sure, she saw a few minutes here and there, but not enough to make any great impact.
When she did play, she lumbered around bunglingly, as if she was hampered by two left feet.
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She is on the path to being an all-Northwest Conference performer for a team that has conference championship aspirations.
You might say — how did that happen? Awkward teenager develops into confident, attacking, able 6-foot-1 frontcourt standout?
As many around the program, including coach Loree Payne, can attest, the type of player Ainslie has turned herself into is as stunning a transformation as anybody can remember.
“I was very realistic with myself, that if I wanted to play at the college level — to get into a game and be a contributor – I had to do ‘X,’ ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ to get there,” Ainslie said.
Ainslie smartly devised a strict plan. Much of it had to do not only with skill-building, but working overtime to reshape her body.
First, she increased her workouts with Lynnette Landis, a private coach for Top Level Hoops out of the Sammamish YMCA.
Landis was a former player and assistant coach for Northwest University when the school won the NCAA Division II title in 1987-88. Her younger sister is Sherri Murrell, the former Washington State University women’s coach now at Portland State.
Ainslie had been coming to Landis since she was in high school, and really ratcheted up her agility, ball-handling and post play with her instructor after her first season at UPS.
“Katy came to me after that first season and said, ‘I never want to have that feeling of sitting (on the bench) and watching it go by again,’ ” Landis said. “A lot of what we did was driven by (Ainslie).
“Her work ethic is matched by no other player I have ever coached.”
Most of Ainslie’s efforts focused on getting stronger, quicker and more athletic.
“I had to be at the gym a minimum of two hours,” Ainslie said. “And I lifted two extra days outside our team’s summer plan. I also conditioned every single day. I killed myself.”
She spent so much time at the Sammamish YMCA, an employee asked Landis if Ainslie was staying there to avoid other problems elsewhere.
“The YMCA in Sammamish is such a small community,” Ainslie said. “There were personal trainers coming up to you and asking, ‘Do you know what you are doing with that kind of weight on the bar?’
“And there were times my mom asked me if I was getting enough sleep.
“I knew what I was doing.”
Apparently so, because when she returned at the beginning of her sophomore season at UPS, she was the unanimous choice for most improved player — voted on by her teammates.
“She worked her tail off. And when she came in her sophomore year, she was a different player,” Payne said. “She played herself into the role of sixth man.”
Her minutes went up (5.6 minutes per game as a freshman to 19.1 as a sophomore) — and so did her production. She averaged 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with Layland and Stewart still around.
Last season as a junior, Ainslie scored in double digits (11.1 ppg) in her first year as a full-time starter. So far this season, she leads the team in scoring (13.6 ppg) in just over 23 minutes per game.
“When I watch film of myself, I am like, ‘I could not have sprinted that fast three years ago.’ I just look like somebody who gets up and down the court,” Ainslie said.
“That is the kind of program Coach Payne is trying to build — five players who are athletic who also work well together. And I had to transform myself into being athletic.”