Emma Boll is the Crookston girls' basketball team's unsung hero
Emma Borowicz has scored more career points than all but two Crookston girls' basketball players in history. Halle Winjum can lead the Pirates in scoring on any given night with her aggressive drives to the rim.
But last Tuesday, in a tight section game against Hawley, not only was Crookston looking to get Borowicz and Winjum the ball, it was trying to feed Emma Boll down low. And at times, the Nuggets were even sending double-teams at Boll, a major sign of respect for just the Pirates' fifth-leading scorer.
Boll, a senior forward, scored the go-ahead basket in overtime on a simple right-handed jump hook. She knocked down two clutch free throws to give the Pirates a 49-46 lead with 1:20 remaining. A minute later, it was Boll in the thick of things again, as she ripped away a rebound that essentially sealed Crookston's win.
"When I'm in a tight situation, I feel like I play a little bit tougher," Boll said Saturday. "My nerves and everything turn into an adrenaline rush, and I get super excited, so everything seems to go my way."
Things have been going Boll's way most of the season, for what it's worth, and especially lately. While she's averaging just 5.5 points per game, she's averaged 7.5 points over her last four games, and with 61 rebounds on the season, she's tied as the Pirates' second-leading rebounder.
Other players might get most of the attention. But Boll, who coach Darin Zimmerman called "the centerpiece of our defense, in a lot of ways," is undoubtedly one of Crookston's most important players on both ends of the court.
Part of that is simply due to the position she plays. Boll is the lone low-post player in the Pirates' starting five; the ballast inside that allows their four-out offense to operate efficiently.
"Getting her some opportunities down there is important, because once she gets the ball she's really effective," said Zimmerman, who also praised Boll's passing out of the post. "... Teams will load up on the outside, so to be able to go inside and have a very consistent player ... that opens things up."
But Boll doesn't just inhabit that role by default. It's a role she's earned.
She made her varsity debut as a sophomore, and last season was the main backup to senior Kasey Cwikla. Those years, she was mostly a rebounder and defensive presence.
"I really like to be physical, and because I play in the middle that helps out a lot," Boll said. "I'm a little bit quicker than a lot of the forwards I'll play against because I'm shorter, so that helps me out too."
This season, Boll has taken that role to the next level. She's adept in both man-to-man and zone defense, according to Zimmerman. In man-to-man, it's her mindset: being competitive, physical and making her opponent work for everything. In zone, she's turned into a shot-caller, efficiently communicating with her teammates to take the right coverage area.
"It looks easy, but it's not easy," Zimmerman said. "It's a tough thing to do. And not only that, she's starting to get herself in position, she's taken some really big charges for us. It's a combination of all those things that are going well."
The biggest leaps Boll has made have come on the offensive end, where she's almost tripled her scoring average from last season. That's due in part to her increased minutes. But Crookston wouldn't be running plays for her without a reason.
Boll's biggest strength on offense is, quite literally, her strength. She does her work before she catches the ball on the block, and then uses the "power element" to her game to finish at the basket. In addition, she's developed the ability to score with both hands, according to Zimmerman.
"She's using momentum and skill to get to the rim," Zimmerman said. "She's not fading away, she's not trying to do anything fancy. Her momentum is always to the rim."
None of that would be possible without Boll's work ethic. Before the season, she admitted she'd like to score more, knowing that it hadn't been her biggest strength. During practices, she's taken far more shots from outside the paint. This, coupled with constant encouragement from Zimmerman and her teammates, has increased her confidence tenfold.
"She's very coachable," Zimmerman said. "We just give her different things, and she handles those things exceptionally well and takes them to heart. She listens, she learns, she practices those things, and then over time we just see her continually do those things.
"You expect that out of a senior, but Emma's a special senior."
The Pirates have three regular-season games left, including Monday night at Moorhead, and then the Section 8AA playoffs begin. Boll understands she only has so many more games left in her high school career. She hopes that knowledge will give her an extra kick of intensity and urgency.
It doesn't matter if that manifests in a higher scoring output for Boll. It doesn't matter if she's Crookston's leading scorer or its fifth. She'll still get the attention that matters from the source that matters — her team.
"She does the nitty-gritty things," Zimmerman said. "The tough things. The things it takes to make a difference."
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