McDonogh's Nelson has look of a winner

Girls basketball: Through intensity, skills and heart, the Eagles' leader earns respect of teammates and foes.

High Schools

January 14, 2001|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

When Katie Nelson's parents began selecting family photos for her senior page in the McDonogh yearbook, Bill Nelson couldn't help but notice the look on his daughter's face in every sports picture.

"You can always see that intensity in her face, even when she was just starting to play. She always had that look," he said.

As the men's basketball coach at Johns Hopkins for the past 15 seasons, Bill Nelson knows what "that look" means in an athlete.

"She's willing to take a hit, whether it's soccer or basketball," he said. "In softball, she'll steal the base. She's not afraid to get her uniform dirty."

Katie, a 17-year-old Ellicott City resident, has used that intensity along with exceptional athletic ability to mold a stellar three-sport career at McDonogh.

Basketball, however, is her passion. The 5-foot-7 All-Baltimore City/County point guard signed early with Massachusetts.

"She's grown up in the gym and she understands the game," said Roland Park's Kelsey Twist, an opponent during the school year but Katie's teammate with the Chesapeake Bay Hurricanes of the Amateur Athletic Union.

"She reads the floor really well. When she's the point guard, we really respect her ability to run the team. She's a really tough competitor. You can see it in her look."

"That look" was there Thursday when Katie scored 27 points in a 56-48 win over No. 9-ranked Mercy, the second time the unranked Eagles have upset a ranked opponent this season. She hit four free throws in the final 21 seconds to ice the victory.

After scoring 59 points in two games last week, Katie boosted her scoring average to 14. She also averages five assists and four rebounds.

Her contribution, however, goes beyond the numbers.

"What Katie gives to a team you cannot have a stat for," Eagles soccer coach Maurice Boylan Jr. said.

"She has tremendous heart. She's competitive. She's driven. She's intense. She's a leader. She has an innate God-given ability -- just an awesome, awesome athlete."

Last fall, she voluntarily played in the goal after starting keeper Mariel Wilner was injured. Lacking in technique because she had never played the position, the All-Metro second-team sweeper used her quickness and aggressiveness to shut out two opponents.

Had she focused on soccer, Katie likely would have been a Division I recruit, but in sixth grade she decided she'd rather play college basketball. She liked the faster pace of the game. Her dad was definitely an influence, but, she said, he never pushed her.

"We never really had a hoop in the yard, so I'd just go up to Hopkins a lot, especially in the summer," said Katie, who also attended almost every Blue Jays men's game until her schedule began to interfere.

At 9, Katie joined the Hurricanes, a team that today boasts some of the metro area's top seniors, including Arundel's Jill Marano, Oakland Mills' Rayna DuBose, Seton Keough's Keisha Blackwell and Western's Lillian Drumgold. The past two summers, the Hurricanes have finished ninth at the AAU national tournament.

Through her four seasons at McDonogh, Katie has ridden quite a roller coaster. The Eagles went from a 26-0 team with the No. 1 ranking in The Sun and a No. 25 ranking in USA Today during her sophomore year to a struggling 8-16 team last season.

"It was frustrating," said Katie, the only returning starter from that undefeated team. "I just tried to be a leader for my teammates even though I wasn't used to that leadership role. I tried to be positive, but it was hard at times."

Said Eagles coach Katie Cooper, "She didn't get a chance to grow into being a leader. It was just handed to her. That wouldn't be easy for anyone, but Katie handled it well. It was a learning experience, and it's going to help her in the long run."

This season has been much easier. Katie's role has changed from having to do most of the scoring to more of the true point guard she'll likely be in college.

"Last year, she felt she had to do, and we needed her to do, too much," Cooper said. "Now on any given day, she can do whatever we need her to do, and the best thing is that she's willing to do whatever we need her to. She doesn't have to score 15 points. Katie understands that's not necessarily the most important thing."

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