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Richfield's Jessica January is more than a scorer

By Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune, 02/01/11, 9:46AM CST


Point guard's mental toughness, tenacity make her an all-around threat

Jessica January of Richfield drives to the basket for two against Hill-Murray's Anna Hangge in the second half of the game. Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Jessica January

Crazy as it sounds, it might be possible that Richfield's team actually is better off when leading scorer Jessica January finishes below her season average of 26 points.

Last Saturday's come-from-behind victory over Providence Academy is a prime example.

January's two free throws with 13.2 seconds left upped the Spartans' lead to 54-51. Those were her final points of the game – 18 in total.

But aside from the points, it was the defensive tenacity and composure with the ball shown by the point guard a few possessions prior that really set the stage for the victory.

With her team up by a point and under three minutes to play, January wrestled for a big rebound under the Providence hoop, controlled the ball up court and dished a nifty pass to Sierra Ford-Washington through the lane.

Two points. Lead up to three.

"It's such a maturity thing to see her do that," Spartans coach LeeAnn Wise said. "Jess does it all."

January, a sophomore who is the area's leader in average points per game, has the skills to put her team on the scoreboard by herself. If that was the case, however, Wise said she believes Richfield likely would not win.

"You have to believe in a team concept," Wise said. "They were leaving Sierra wide open, and Jess recognized that. Last year, it might have been one-on-five. You don't win that way."

That January and the Spartans continue to win with that team-first mentality is even more impressive when you factor in four players being injured. That leaves Wise with only seven healthy bodies. January routinely plays all 36 minutes.

This should come as no surprise.

January is an outstanding all-around athlete. She won the 100- and 300-meter hurdles at last spring's Class 2A girls' track and field meet as a freshman. She also placed third in the long jump and stands out on the volleyball team.

Her time to rest is on Sundays, which never lasts that long because eventually she gets the itch to go shoot hoops at open gym.

Track and field meets might give January butterflies in her stomach – "there's nothing more nerve-racking than the starting blocks," she said – but her true sport is basketball.

"Basketball is just fun for me," January said. "And I know there is always something I can do better. I can always make better passes, and direct things better as a point guard."

Wise made January a captain on this year's team. The fifth-year coach is hardly the first to notice the exceptional young talent.

"She's a good player, and we knew she was a key to their offense and defense," Hill-Murray standout Tessa Cichy said last week after the Pioneers whipped Richfield by 35 points.

January still scored 20 in that lopsided affair, putting on a show for college coaches in attendance.

The Gophers are on her trail, as are several other teams in the Big Ten.

Wise said she believes January's talents could be on display a little further East, too.

"I've read books by [UConn coach] Geno Auriemma and [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt and their stories are all about mental toughness," Wise said. "She has that plus the athletic ability. She needs to be seen by these schools, because she really is something special."

Jessica January of Richfield dives for a loose ball against Morgan Rustad of Hill-Murray. Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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