Words mean things, and so do statistics.
Last season, in her first year on varsity, Bismarck Demons sophomore Keisha Engelhardt averaged
9 points and 5.4 rebounds. This year she’s averaging 16.3 points and 9 rebounds.
Engelhardt, a 5-foot-8 junior, says those statistics are a code. If you read between the lines, they spell out “hard work.”
She doesn’t claim to have the coolest moves or the prettiest shot on the team. What she brings to the game is a nose for the ball and burning competitiveness.
Even though she generally gives away some size inside she survives by “working hard and just trying to get all the rebounds. Rebounding is willpower. If you want it, you just go and get it.”
Although she isn’t cast from the same mold as her teammate, 6-foot Naomi Rust, Engelhardt says the frontcourt is her natural position.
“I don’t shoot very well from the outside and I’m pretty strong so they put me down there and it worked out,” she said. “I really like playing there and it helps the team so it’s a win-win.”
Just as her rebounding is the result of a strong work ethic, Engelhardt said her scoring numbers reflect a blue-collar attitude.
“It comes from working hard,” she said. “… You convert those easy points by running the floor and having the willpower to get the put-backs and working on the blocks.”
Engelhardt said the part of her game that’s come the farthest since her sophomore year is her inside play.
“It’s probably my post moves,” she said. “Last year I didn’t do a lot of back-to-the-basket. This year that part of the game has really come to me, so I can contribute more.”
Most emphatically so in Bismarck’s most recent game, an 88-32 victory at Williston. She scored 23 points and hauled in nine rebounds that night.
That victory helped wash the taste of a 1-2 performance at the Energy Classic at Gillette, Wyo., out of her mouth.
Tonight, the Demons play host to Mandan in a 6:15 game at the Civic Center. The boys teams will take the court in the late game.
Engelhardt said she always enjoys the rivalry games against Mandan, Century and St. Mary’s. Playing at the Civic Center makes it an even better experience.
“We kind of motivate ourselves (for the intra-city games),” she said. “The coach doesn’t have to say much.”
Bismarck takes a 4-2 record and a 3-0 West Region mark into tonight’s game. Mandan stands 1-4, 0-2 in the region. Like BHS, Mandan had a 1-2 record at Gillette.
Engelhardt said the Braves present a challenge, their record notwithstanding.
“We know McKayla Howling Wolf. She’s been a shooter since she was young. As far as size we’re pretty well-matched and they’re hard workers. They won’t give up,” Engelhardt said.
Mandan’s record is somewhat deceptive. The Braves’ five games have been against two ranked teams — No. 2 Century and No. 4 Jamestown — and in Gillette.
Engelhardt said the Gillette tournament was highly demanding. The Demons defeated a team from Oregon and lost to teams from Wyoming and Washington.
“It was a pretty big wakeup call. … We knew it was going to be tough going in, but we thought we’d compete a little better than we did,” she said. “We hadn’t been practicing really well and that made us come together as a team and strive to get better every day.”
The setbacks in Wyoming proved costly to the Demons in the Class A poll. BHS was ranked first in the state prior to the Christmas break. They stand No. 4 in today’s rankings.
Engelhardt said she and her teammates didn’t attach much importance to being No. 1 and they’re not worried about where they are now.
“We just take each game as a step toward the end — just as an opportunity for improvement,” she said. “… We want to make sure we use all these games to improve so we can get to the state tournament in the end, preferably to the final game.”
Engelhardt, who played soccer last spring, said she’s been involved in one sport or another as long as she can remember. Basketball became her passion as a freshman, and that’s where her focus is directed.
She said in her family athletics are a given.
“My uncle Jordan played for BHS and his brothers and my dad (Kyle) were all in athletics. It ran in the family, I guess,” she said.
Engelhardt performs well in the classroom and says her focus in college will be primarily on academics. Athletics? She’ll just wait and see.
“I’ll probably concentrate more on the academic side … probably something in the medical field,” she said. “… I enjoy precalc and anatomy. Math has always seemed pretty easy for me.
“Athletics has kind of been a debate I’ve been having. I haven’t really decided, though.”