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Stepping up in Smith Center

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last year, Colbie Decker and Briana Dietz were little-used role players for a Smith Center girls' basketball team that finished 22-1 and a game away from the state tournament. The Lady Red suffered two season-ending injuries to a pair of starters and had trouble replacing 16 points a game. Dietz averaged three points a contest, while Decker tacked on 2.8 points per game.

A year later, Decker and Dietz are vital cogs for a Smith Center squad battling injuries. Last Friday, senior Sydney Benoit, the team leader in multiple categories, rarely played because of a hamstring injury. However, the Lady Red won easily as Decker collected 19 points on 9 of 15 shooting.

"Without that tonight, I thought we were stale," coach Nick Linn said. "We made some perimeter shots, but we can't rely on that. We have to have that inside game. Colbie provides that for us."

Dietz finished with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including several smooth baseline jumpers. Dietz has near-perfect shooting form and releases the ball with good spin. Dietz has honed her form for years. Growing up, Dietz's dad checked her elbow in drills in the garage or the gym.

"I work at it, but it's not something that is just going to come naturally," Dietz said.

On Tuesday, Smith Center, ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, dropped to 16-2 with a 55-51 loss to Osborne. Benoit didn't play. Decker finished with 10 points and Dietz had nine as four players combined for all but two of Smith Center's points. The defeat drops Smith Center out of sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the Plainville sub-state and in the mix with Ellis and Oakley, also ranked teams. With Benoit's status uncertain, Decker and Dietz will likely have to continue to play at a high level in sub-state in two weeks.

"Others have to step up and take her place," Dietz said.

The 6-foot Decker, a junior, has emerged as one of the area's stronger post players and a consistent force inside.

She averages 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, each second on the team behind Benoit. In the summer, Decker played in a few tournaments with the other players. Linn said Decker has "gotten a whole lot better" from Day 1 until now.

"Then we had a really, really hard time trying to get her to score under the basket," Linn said.

Until Jan. 19, Decker had four single-figure games and five double-figure contests, but only one game with more than 12 points. Then, Decker collected 26 points and 13 rebounds in a 73-63 loss to Ellis at the league tournament championship. Since then, Decker has six double-figure scoring games in the last seven contests. Decker has worked on "getting big" down low.

"Giving them a big target and letting them know that I want the ball," Decker said.

Dietz had just three contests with at least eight points before Feb. 1. In the last three games, though, Dietz has 11, 14 and nine points.

"She has got great form on her shots and when she is confident and when she is feeling it, she does really good things for us," Linn said. "It's when she shoots out of our system. When we run things; and then she shoots in a hurry is when she gets into trouble. She has been in some games like that. I thought she stepped up (against Hill City) when Sydney went out."