HIBBING — In high school, Klaryssa Whelan sat on the bench, while her teammates were doing their jobs on the floor.
It wasn’t a pleasant situation to be in, but Whelan persevered, did her job and never complained about anything.
She may not have played much, but that didn’t matter to Hibbing Community College women’s basketball coach Kate Brau.
She knew about Whelan’s talents, and she wanted to get the Bemidji product into her program.
So far, Whelan has done everything Brau has wanted her to do, and more.
She still comes off of the bench, but her contributions are immense as she has helped Hibbing to a 25-2 record, and the No. 1 seed in the Region XIII Tournament.
Why did Brau want Whelan on the team?
“She has height and a versatility that we thought would fit well into our program this season,” Brau said. “Without a doubt, it has. No matter the coach or official I speak to during a game or in conversation, her name always comes up.
“She’s a game-changer. She’s been invaluable to our program this season. She has started only a few games for us. She comes off of the bench, but she is such a game-changer when she does. She is a true reason for our teams’ success this season.”
Whelan averages double digits in scoring for the Cardinals, plus she’s an asset on the boards. She can also guard in the post, which is crucial to Hibbing’s success on the defensive side of the ball.
“She provides a spark, and that’s a tough thing to do coming off of the bench,” Brau said. “There are six-man awards out there, and when you’re coaching and trying to describe that to the kids who come off of the bench about that spark you need, sometimes it can be difficult to describe.
“She provides an energy and becomes this offensive go-to person for us. She rebounds, both on the offensive and defensive ends. So many people have noticed her in the league. We’re lucky to have her.”
Whelan didn’t play much in high school. She said she was the seventh- or eighth-person coming off of the bench as a Lumberjack, but she still wanted to play college ball.
“It wasn’t fun not playing,” Whelan said. “I would go to practice, then go home. I knew I still wanted to play, and my coach was making sure I was getting looked at. He told me what fit would be best for me. He said Hibbing would be the best for me. I agreed, then I came for a visit.
“I was like, ‘Yup, that’s where I want to go.’”
As soon as Whelan got here, Brau said she fit in right away.
“She felt right at home,” Brau said. “She felt great about the community and the support we provide at this college. She considers us family. That’s says so much about our team, our program, our college and our community.
“Because she felt right at home, that has led to her success.”
That success began in game No. 1 against Lake Superior College. She had 22 points and 22 rebounds.
“She carried herself with a level of confidence that has lasted an entire season,” Brau said. “Sometimes, for players who come off the bench and may not start or may not be that go-to person for scoring, they could possess a bad attitude.
“She hasn’t done that.”
As a matter of fact, Whelan doesn’t mind being a so-called sixth-person.
“It kind of helps me with my nerves,” Whelan said. “I wasn’t as nervous coming off the bench, than if I was starting. When I start, I do get nervous. It’s easier coming off the bench. I like coming off the bench here.
“Our starting five, they spark us, and they give me the energy I need when I do go into the game.”
Whelan can shoot from all over the floor, which makes her tough to defend, but she likes one shot in particular.
“The 3-point shot is my favorite,” Whelan said. “I always liked shooting 3-point shots. In high school, up until my senior year, I was put at the post. Until that year, I was a shooter. I always shot the ball, but I had to adjust it while I was working in the post.”
Whelan will usually enter the game about seven minutes into the contest. By that time, she’s ready to do some damage.
“I sit next Stacie (Lokken) every time, and I’m like, ‘Alright Stacie, come on, we’ve got to go.’” Whelan said. “We like pumping each other up. I like it when people are making plays, making threes.
“I like to cheer them on, then it gives me the energy I need to go in and play.”
Whelan likes the camaraderie of this team.
“This team knows how to pass the ball,” Whelan said. “They know how to run the floor. They know how to use their teammates.”
That unselfishness is why Hibbing has been so successful, and that’s why the Cardinals get their shot at hosting the Region XIII Tourney.
“It’s nice to win,” Whelan said. “We’ve got players who know how to play with each other, and get the job done. I was talking to Sherea’ (Cherenfant) and I’m like, ‘We have to get to this tournament.
“We talked about how exciting it would be. We knew we had to play our best basketball to get there.”