Go west, young woman
The University of Dubuque women’s basketball team defeated Loras College 60-51 Feb. 16 behind Woodstock High School class of 2009 graduate Mollie Whiting. Whiting’s game-high 26 points put her third on Dubuque’s career scoring list and helped Dubuque extend its record to 18-7, a new school record.
And yet one of the real catalysts for this success sat in the bleachers.
Woodstock’s leading all-time scorer, University of Dubuque’s fifth all-time scorer and current Alden-Hebron head coach Jen Nichols spent Feb. 16 with two AH seniors traveling to Dubuque to catch the game.
Since Nichols was a junior all-star at Dubuque, she has been recruiting for the Spartans by cuing in head coach Mike Noll to notable area players. Of the 21 players on Noll’s roster, four joined the program because of Nichols.
WHS’ second and third all-time leading scorers, Dubuque senior Whiting and sophomore Christina Velasquez, and Dubuque freshmen Haylee Nutter, a Woodstock North High School grad, and Molly Richardson, Marengo, all have begun putting their stamp on the UD program.
Nichols played with Whiting her senior year at WHS, but she became familiar with the caliber of the other athletes by coaching at Woodstock North and the Magic AAU program. Nutter’s commitment to Dubuque makes her the fourth WHS player to make a home with the Spartans.
“We feel really fortunate that we’ve had four players here from the city of Woodstock,” said Noll. “This is my 15th year coaching college basketball. In those 15 years, I have never been a part of a program where we’ve had that many kids from the same town like this ... and all of them impact players.”
“It all has to do with Jen,” said WHS head coach Marty Hammond. “When Jen was a senior, she led the team really well and brought the first regional title to Woodstock High School in about 10 or 15 years. Because she set the bar so high, Mollie Whiting naturally took the bar higher.”
The firsthand knowledge Nichols gained of Whiting’s skills is what stands out to Noll as important to good recruiting.
“In recruiting, it always comes down to who you know and who those people know,” said Noll. “Your players are always your best recruiters. You’ve always got to ask your players, ‘Who is out there that we should be looking at?’ They’re the ones that know the school, the setting and if it would be a good fit for a kid or not.”
Turns out, Dubuque has become a great fit for Woodstock players. Woodstock North head coach Mike Lewis believes the emphasis on players setting good examples on and off the court has helped them adapt to the rigor of college athletics, especially with his former player, Nutter, at Dubuque.
“The kid that is going [to play in college] definitely understands that she has all the athletic talent, she has the skills, but just like anybody else, ... she’s got to be able to look within herself and understand what’s the most important thing in life, and missing a jump shot can’t be that thing.”
The selfless approach that led Nichols to a three-point state title 10 years ago this month and set her on the path to create opportunities for everyone around her to also succeed. Her gratefulness for the support she had learning basketball in Woodstock and at Dubuque has spurred her efforts to help other young players.
“It wasn’t about me. It was about the program [at Dubuque],” said Nichols. “It’s really neat to look back and say I was part of that.”
As for the players she brought with her to Dubuque last Saturday?
“I’m trying to talk to them about at least going out for the basketball teams at the colleges they’re planning to attend,” said Nichols. “I hear it too often — that they look back and go, ‘I wish I would have at least tried.’”
“A lot of times, what it comes down to is what program you put yourself into. If you put yourself in a program in which you can be successful, there is no reason to not go for it.”