HIBBING — When Kourtney Manning first got the call to enter a varsity game, she thought her mother was sitting in the crowd.
She found out later that her mother had left after the first half of the varsity game against Duluth East two years ago, so she didn’t get to see her daughter play.
She may have missed that highlight, but Manning has provided many other memories for her family as a member of the Hibbing High School girls basketball team.
Manning had played two halves of the junior varsity game that day, which her mother saw, but neither one of them had any way of knowing that a varsity experience was in the cards.
That was Bluejacket coach Dave LaCoe’s first memory of his senior post player.
“Her mom was there for the JV game and stayed for half of the varsity game,” LaCoe said. “She took off, then with about six minutes to play at a crucial point of the game, I put Kourtney in. She ended up making six free throws and a basket that put the game away for us.
“Her mom missed out on her first varsity minutes.”
Needless to say, Manning was caught off guard when she was summoned into the gamet.
“I was excited about it, and I thought she was still there,” Manning said. “I didn’t find out until after the game that she had left. She texted me right after the game and said she was sorry, but she saw that I did really good.
“I didn’t expect to get in. I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I didn’t show them that I was nervous. I didn’t want them to worry about me because I wasn’t worried either.”
LaCoe could see some nervousness on Manning’s face, but the sophomore acted like she had been there before.
She made some crucial free throws and even hit a basket as Hibbing beat Duluth East that night.
It’s all about having confidence in yourself,” LaCoe said. ““You could tell during that game that she was scared, but when it comes down to it, she put those free throws down, just like Tuesday’s game against Grand Rapids.
“It’s not easy going to the line either down by one or in a tie game, and the game is in your hands. There’s pressure, but she knocked it down. She’s come up with big plays throughout her career.”
Manning doesn’t let big situations get to her.
“I was nervous, but I didn’t let my nerves get to me,” Manning said. “I talked to my teammates to make sure we were all pumped up and not nervous. The nerves usually go away throughout the game.”
That’s all been a part of Manning’s maturity process. She had good role models to follow.
“She’s grown as a player,” LaCoe said. “Playing under Abby (McDonald), Lizzy (Tuomi) and McKenzie (Maki) for three years, she learned from them, and she’s building off of that this season.
“She’s growing as a leader as the season goes on, game-by-game. She’s going to play at the next level.”
The one part of Manning’s game that has grown the most is her post play.
When Manning was younger, she would get out and run on the fastbreak, plus, she’s an adequate 3-point shooter. Her defensive game is strong, and now, Manning is adding post play to that repertoire.
“She’s getting more aggressive in the low post,” LaCoe said. “She’s taking the ball to the rim. In the past, we’ve known Kourtney as a player that’s going to get a steal, then go the length of the floor, or get a long outlet pass from Abby because she runs up the floor ahead of everybody else.
“This year, we haven’t seen that too much because they’re keying on her. For her to be effective, she can’t settle for outside shot. She needs to be aggressive taking the ball to the rim. She’s becoming a post presence, posting up and making moves down low. We need that from her.”
Manning said making that change was a little tricky at first, but she’s getting the hang of it. She is now a triple offensive threat on the floor.
“If I have to go on the outside, I go on the outside,” Manning said. “If I have to be on the inside, I’ll go on the inside. I used to not use many moves, and I don’t use many right now, but I use at least one or two a game. That helps.
“That has given me more opportunities to score. It’s made it easier, too.”