The Press Newspaper
Only Nicole Lamb knows what she was thinking the first day she showed up for basketball practice at Cardinal Stritch as a five-foot freshman.
She could have gone one of two ways: told herself she had no chance of becoming a varsity player for Coach Gary Lemle, or worked even harder to prove her basketball ability.
"Both my parents are really short," said Lamb, whose father, Michael, is 5-9. Her mother, Penny, is 5-2. "My dad has always told me since I was small that I had to work harder than anyone else because of my height disadvantage.
"That's what made me practice harder in eighth grade. I knew it was going to be more difficult in high school because of the competition."
Lucky for Lemle and the Cardinals that Lamb didn't care that she was vertically challenged.
Now a 5-3 senior, Lamb is one of the area's top point guards. She is third in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference in scoring at 13.7 points per game, and she averages 4.5 assists and three steals a game.
And yet, Lamb is usually the shortest player on the court.
"She's a smurf. No doubt about it," Lemle said. "But she's got good speed and she has run cross country in the past, so she has good endurance. We don't take her out of the game much. She doesn't get many breaks, so she holds up real well. Hands-down, she's one of the best ball handlers in Northwest Ohio. She's got spin moves ... You name it, she can do it."
Lemle can still envision Lamb as five-foot eighth-grader.
"She came to one of my basketball camps, and we have this thing where you can challenge a coach or one of the players," Lemle said. "In eighth grade, she challenged me to 3-point shooting contest, to see how many you could make in one minute."
Lemle won the shooting contest that day, and he doesn't let Lamb forget it.
"To keep her humble, I remember to remind her who the 3-point shooting king is at Cardinal Stritch," the coach chuckled.
Said Lamb, "He only beat me by two. He always bugs me and brings it up during practice. I remember I was really scared. I was just a little eighth-grader. I wish I would have beaten him. If we won, we got to pick what the coaches had to do for punishment - and I lost."
Lamb broke the starting lineup during the second half of her freshman season. She learned Lemle's system through senior point guard Katie Bochi and adjusted well to varsity ball.
"With Nicole being a natural scorer and shooter, even this dumb coach could figure out she should be in the starting lineup," Lemle said. "Sometimes we'd run her at the point and put Katie at the off-guard."
Lemle added that Lamb, who has a 3.9 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society, has all the intangibles it takes to be a leader on the court.
"She's really a combination of everything," Lemle said. "She sees the court very well. Teams are now devising defenses to stop her. She's seeing the boxes-and-one and the double-teams all the time. She's got a good court sense and is able to break down defenses for us. She's coachable; she wants to learn and wants to improve."
Lamb, a team captain along with senior Katie Gullett, said she prepared herself to see different defenses this season. Fremont St. Joe used a box-and-one on her in the second half earlier this season and, Lamb said, "I still scored."
"It was more difficult," she admitted. "It definitely puts more pressure on you, but you have to go with it. I expected it more this year and I've been trying to work harder. When I get in those types of situations, I think of different ways to get open. My team depends on me to bring the ball up and run the plays, and I can't let them down."
The Cardinals, who went 11-1 in the TAAC last season to win their third conference title in the last five years, are off to a rough start this season. Stritch is 4-6 and 3-2 in TAAC, but Lamb said the team still has plenty of time to turn things around.
"We need to work as a team," she said. "We have everything we need to win these games. We just need to put it out there and do it. As long as we do that and believe we can do it, I think it can happen."
Spoken like someone who knows.
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