Ball in hand and clad in a maroon warmup shirt and gray headband, Paige Weakley leads her team out onto the court.
As she runs, her white high-tops bounce briskly across the hardwood. She takes the confident strides of a senior, a team leader, someone who’s first in the layup line for a reason.
Weakley begins to dribble at midcourt. She stops, 15 feet from the basket at the right elbow, and flicks a pass to her teammate. She catches the return pass, takes another dribble and tosses it off the glass in stride, with a combination of poise and ease.
A little over an hour later, Weakley backpedals down the floor. She’s just hit her sixth 3-pointer of the game, a deep, early-in-the-shot-clock attempt from the right wing that only the most accurate shooters even think about.
The Minnesota Crookston bench is loud and jubilant, with 20 or so arms raised in the air. The rest of Lysaker Gymnasium is reacting in turn. Weakley, however, is totally expressionless. She doesn’t seem to be aware of anything that’s going on around her. She’s just as casual now as she was when she laid in that warmup shot.
To hear her, her teammates and her coach tell it, there’s a duality about Paige Weakley.
On one hand, she’s the Golden Eagles’ most experienced player in a season that will be defined in large part — at least in the early going — by how they replace their two leading scorers from last season, the now-graduated Isieoma Odor and Caitlin Michaelis. Last season, Weakley started every contest, averaging 6.4 points and shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range. She was named Minnesota Crookston’s Player to Watch by the NSIC last week. She’s the only senior in the starting lineup. The overtone: this is her time. This is her team.
On the other hand, coach Mike Roysland believes that this year’s Golden Eagles are one of his deepest teams yet. That sentiment’s been echoed by the Golden Eagles themselves. Their modus operandi is balance and cohesion. In this setup, there’s no need for Weakley to suddenly become the go-to option.
“She just needs to do the things that she does well, and that's obviously to shoot the three,” Roysland said last Thursday. “I think she needs to really continue to be smart. I think Paige's biggest asset could be her ability to stay patient, to draw defenders to her, shoot the appropriate shot, and like every one of our players she's going to have to be able to defend as well.
“She just needs to be patient with it, not try to force it to make it happen because she's a senior.”
Do the things you do well. Be patient.
Weakley understands what she does well as much as anyone else. She also understands that she is a senior. Her desire to improve her all-around game, though, is a desire to improve for the sake of improving, to add another element to her game, to make her and her team less predictable.
As Weakley talks, there’s not a hint of desperation in her voice — desperation that would indicate she has only one season left to make a mark. Instead? Only patience.
“This league knows that (shooting) is what I want to do,” Weakley said. “So I had to work a lot on things off the bounce or setting my shot up on my own and not having my teammates have to create it for me.”
But she adds: “I think the big emphasis about this year’s team is that it’s a team, far more than it’s been in the past, and that’s what’s gonna win games.”
Off the court, Weakley is indeed leaning into her new status. Previously more of a leader by example, she says she has tried to become more vocal this year. However, her on-court role is still much the same.
Ideally, teams won’t be able to totally shut Weakley down by taking away the 3-point line. But sheis, was and will remain a shooter.
A capital-S Shooter.
Open 3-pointers aren’t a challenge for most at the college level. What separates the Shooters from the rest, then, is confidence. That means knowing your role. Knowing your sweet spots. Knowing that your counterpart has been assigned to stay in your jersey and never lose sight of you. Knowing all this, and getting yours no matter what. Tuning out the pressure, the noise, the steadily-building energy that accompanies every consecutive make. This is merely what you’re supposed to do.
None of Weakley’s six treys Wednesday were forced, save maybe for her final attempt, which earned a “heat-check” exception. All she did: run hard to her spots in transition, mostly the left corner. Space the floor and never hesitate.
On only one of her threes was a Concordia defender close enough to defend. Weakley caught the ball on the left wing in textbook triple-threat position — the first thing any young basketball player gets taught, having the option to segue into a pass, drive or shot.
She pivoted her feet and placed the ball above her shoulder as if to kick the ball out and reset the offense. Defender baited, she fluidly brought the ball down, then back up into her shooting pocket just above her right shoulder. The ball left Weakley’s hand before her defender had even left the ground. Swish. Patience, poise and execution on display.
“When she's hot, she's hot, you know?” said sophomore center Bren Fox. “Gotta find her the ball. … If Paige is open or anybody out there, we're looking for the shooters.”
Just as she was the moment after she ran her shooting line to a perfect six-for-six for 18 points in just 14 minutes, Weakley was self-effacing postgame. The ball moved, the Golden Eagles found the open woman and that was that.
Roysland, however, saw everything he wants to see in Weakley this season.
“Paige was really in a comfort zone here tonight,” he said. “I thought she was very patient and taking the appropriate shots. Not trying to make the game happen, but letting the game come to her.”
And as long as Weakley does just that — the only thing she needs to do — her final season in maroon and gold will be a success.
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