BRITT | The West Hancock girls basketball team is in the midst of its most successful season in years, and at 23-1, recently clinched a spot in the state basketball tournament. The Eagles have several key pieces on both offense and defense, including Amanda Chizek, who is fourth in the state with 276 rebounds. On offense, the Eagles' top threat is sophomore point guard Rachel Leerar.
Leerar is young, but you’d never know it by watching her demeanor on the floor. As the point guard, she acts as the floor general for the Eagles, and currently ranks seventh in the state with 503 points on the season. She is also second on the team in rebounds, first in assists, and has 103 steals for the year.
“She’s a great teammate to have,” coach Paul Sonius said. “She works her butt off, and when she’s out there, she’s going to play hard, and play aggressive. As a teammate, that’s what you want, someone who is going to give their full effort.”
Leerar has proven her leadership abilities on the floor, and Sonius made it clear to her at the beginning of the season that he wanted her to grow and take control of the point guard position.
“It’s been a little strange, but I’ve also played with these girls since sixth grade,” Leerar said. “ ... That’s why we work so well together now, because we’ve been playing together for years. It’s kind of just come natural, leading. That’s how I play.”
A big part of the team has been playing together since AAU ball, and their reputation has preceded them. After losing a big chunk of his team to graduation, including Rachel’s sister Kelly, in the past couple seasons, Sonius was excited to have the group finally arrive at West Hancock last season.
“I knew this group was coming up, and this group has made its way to where it needs to be,” Sonius said. “Now, we have to take those next steps. There is a couple good battles on the way.”
Before becoming one of the best young players in the Iowa high school scene, Leerar played for the North Iowa Fire, an AAU team that plays out of Mason City. Leerar played with that club until eighth grade. While playing for the Fire, Leerar met coach Todd Ciochetto, who is now the head women’s basketball coach at NIACC. Leerar credits Ciochetto with teaching her everything she knows, and helping to transform her into a dominant basketball player.
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“You’re not just born being good,” Leerar said. “When I started out, I played up, because there was no third-grade team. I played with the fifth-graders. My role was to play defense, set screens, and be a team player. I was not good for a long time ... Lots of practice. I’m still working though. Lots of things to improve on.”
Sonius has noticed Leerar’s growth this season, but is also mindful not to fill her plate too full. The Eagles are well-stocked with older players, such as Chizek, who can help to lead the team this week as the team travels to Des Moines for the state tournament.
“She puts a little more pressure on herself this year than she did last year,” Sonius said. “Part of that is because there is not her sister here, but I think that she thinks she needs to score the points compared to last year, which came nice and easy. That’s going to happen to any step you make.”
High school will probably not be the end for Leerar. She has dreams of playing basketball at a big school, and she has lots of time to improve her game before she gets there. But before she goes off to college, Leerar has things to accomplish while she’s still in Britt.
“My goal in high school is to bring our team to state, and do well at state,” Leerar said. “That’s my ultimate goal here in high school. After that, through AAU and stuff, I want to just improve my game and hopefully go on to play college at a high level ... My ultimate goal is DI, but I know I have a lot of work to get there. I have to nail that 3-point shot and get that mid-range jumper.”
Leerar has already accomplished a lot in her two years at West Hancock, but Sonius thinks she can accomplish a lot more by the time she is done as an Eagle.
“I think she has the chance to accomplish a lot of things,” Sonius said. “Career records. I think she has a chance to set a lot of things that are going to be tough to beat down the road. The key is that we want conference championships. We don’t want to lose at all in the conference, and we want to get to state. I think she has a chance, and this group, they’re still young.”