Saturday, December 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Inner drive lifts a quiet competitor

Leader sportswriter

The old saying that talk is cheap but hard work is expensive certainly applies to Cabot senior Ally Van Enk.

Van Enk may have a quiet demeanor , but her inner drive has propelled her to a starting role with the Lady Panthers under longtime coach Carla Crowder. That’s not to say she hasn’t had much playing time up until this point, as she was a strong contributor last season during Cabot’s 27-5 run that included a 7A Central Conference title and the school’s first-ever basketball state championship.

It was a team loaded with premier talent, including a major NCAA Division I college recruit. There was so much depth for the Lady Panthers heading into the 2011-12 season that Van Enk, who would have easily been a starter at most other schools, was relegated to a sixth-man role.

It was a history-making season for Cabot all the way around with the opening of the new Panther Arena for the 2011-12 season. The Lady Panthers went undefeated in their new digs last year, including a thrilling overtime victory over Little Rock Hall in the state semifinals.

Cabot faced Fort Smith Northside in the championship on March 10 at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The Lady Grizzlies came into the game with only one loss, but Cabot prevailed 51-41 to win the title. The starting five took few breaks during the course of the game, which meant Van Enk saw only two minutes of playing time.

“Nerves,” Van Enk said of the week leading up to the championship game. “Every-body was nervous, everybody was excited, but we all had to be on our A game. Everybody knew we could do it, we just had to make it happen.”

Some high-level players might have grown frustrated with limited playing time like the situation Van Enk faced last year, but her team-first approach made her an effective role player for Crowder.

“I knew my role in practice,” Van Enk said. “I didn’t mind not getting as much playing time, I knew I was helping the team.”

The Lady Panthers lost three starters to graduation in the spring, but for Van Enk, along with fellow senior starters Elliot Taylor, Jaylin Bridges and Abbey Allgood, the fight to defend the 7A state crown is just beginning.

“I feel a little more pressure as a starter,” Van Enk said. “Everyone is looking up to you. I feel comfortable being a leader. Coach pushes everybody to be a leader and push everybody else. Seniors are expected to be leaders, but then everyone themselves strive to be leaders.”

Her full first name is Alexandra, though she is known by all her friends and teammates as Ally. Van Enk, who is a 4.0 GPA student academically, is the oldest of three children for Justin and Erica Van Enk, and said her only real hobby outside of basketball is spending time with friends.

“We have a lot of team bonding,” Van Enk said. “We spend a lot of time together. Of course, we practice a lot too. Everybody’s really good friends, we all like to hang out with each other.”

Van Enk is eyeing Arkansas State University in Jonesboro as a potential college once she graduates this spring. To date, there have been no offers to play college basketball, but she said she would be open for offers.

“She’s a great person,” Crowder said. “Good student, and excellent player. Ally can do whatever Ally wants to do. She’s got that much ability. She’s probably the most athletic person on the team, and her level of expectation is high from me.

“She does a really good job for us. She’s able to rebound and hit the boards really hard.”

Crowder said Van Enk’s contributions on the court have been important for Cabot, but the example she sets off the court is vital for the younger players.

“I think she’s starting to be a leader,” Crowder said. “She’s kind of quiet and shy, but I think she’s starting to do a better job and be a good leader for us on and off the court. She’s really a good kid and makes good choices off the court, and I’m really proud of her for that.”

The Lady Panthers are off to Texas to play in a holiday tournament in the Dallas area before 7A/6A East Conference play starts up during the first week of 2013. It will be the final run playing high-school basketball for Van Enk, who said she would rather be remembered as a strong team player as opposed to any individual accomplishments.

“It’s been great,” Van Enk said. “I’ve loved everybody I’ve played with. I’ve gotten along with them well. They’ve pushed me, I’ve learned to push them as well. I guess I’ve just had a good chemistry with everybody.”