Van Sant earns Staples girls basketball Block S Coach's award
Updated 11:23 pm, Tuesday, March 29, 2011
MK Van Sant epitomizes what being a team player is all about.
In recognition for putting the team first, Van Sant, a senior captain for the Staples girls basketball team, received the Block S Coach's award. She sparkled as a player as well, averaging 8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game and earned All-FCIAC Honorable Mention.
"It felt great and it was nice to be recognized," Van Sant says. "I worked hard this year after missing the end of last year with a broken nose. To come back strong and to get recognized is the cherry on top for me."
Staples Coach Ed Huydic felt Van Sant was a godsend for him and the team.
"MK meant a lot to the team," he says. "She's a competitor and set a great example, day in and day out with her work ethic and dedication. She was a player who played hurt, who played sick and who played virtually every minute of every game. In doing so, she set a marvelous example for the younger players about desire and the will to overcome obstacles."
From the time Van Sant became a varsity player, she was renowned for her offensive prowess. She always contributed instant offense as an underclassman and this year, she was one of the Lady Wreckers' top scoring weapons.
"When we didn't have practice on Saturday, I went to the YMCA to work on my shot," says Van Sant. "We worked on conditioning as well."
Although she mostly played at power forward with a little time at shooting forward, Van Sant developed into a consistent shooter and buried a few clutch 3-pointers.
"It's mostly practice," says Van Sant. "My dad also helped me. I went to [shooting instructor] Dave Hopla camps, watched his CD and practiced everything he taught me."
She scored many points off of layups this year.
`You learn layups in fourth grade and it comes naturally in practice," Van Sant says. "We do 100 layups in practice in five minutes and we try to go strong but not too strong."
Knowing where to be on the court and understanding the game played a role in Van Sant finding a way to be in the right place at the right time.
"I'm not as strong as the typical power forward and I'm more of a shooter than a post-up player," says Van Sant. "A lot of parents and coaches told me I have a lot of court sense in that I see the court well and know what's going on. I pass it to the teammate who has the open shot."
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Typically, forwards finish and rarely set up their teammates. Van Sant is an exception and located many teammates in perfect position for layups with picturesque passes.
"You can't be too late in your passes and you can't hesitate because it will be intercepted," Van Sant says. "You can't throw a lob pass and you have to throw it hard and by the numbers."
Having a strong arm contributed too many of her assists, which she developed while playing left field for St. Jude's Elementary School in Monroe while in eighth grade.
Setting good screens also contributes a role to how well Van Sant passes it. She is one of the best screen-setters in the league the Lady Wreckers scored often after she set one.
"You got to get a good screen on your player and hope your teammates make good cuts," says Van Sant. "It's all about movement and you can't stand still in basketball."
One area of her game where Van Sant improved exponentially since sophomore year is on defense. She deftly converged with her teammates in forcing many turnovers.
"I credit it to G [Staples athletic trainer Gaetana DiLeo] for her workout training because it made us quicker on our feet," says Van Sant.
Van Sant also got her fair share of steals off the press through her quickness and guile play.
"You have to read people, see their eyes and anticipate the pass," Van Sant says. "You can't hesitate because if you do, they score easy layups off of that."
Life on the hardcourt began for Van Sant at age 7. With an older brother Jake, who played for Fairfield Prep before graduating in 2009, and her father Jack, who was a head basketball coach before she was born. The UConn women's basketball team has been a dominant force in her life, which also factored into her gravitating towards playing basketball.
In the end, Jack may have played the biggest role in Van Sant picking up a basketball. Jack Van Sant coached the Joel Barlow girls basketball team to a state title in the 80s and after retiring from head coaching to focus on his fulltime job, he served as the 2006-07 Staples freshman girls basketball coach. Moreover, he coached his daughter since fourth grade.
"My father helped me a lot and is the core of my basketball knowledge," Van Sant says.
The elder Van Sant left Staples after one year so he can watch his daughter play for St. Joseph. In the middle of her sophomore year, she transferred to Staples and moved in with her grandparents in Westport.
Van Sant decided to switch schools because her brother was college-bound and she wanted to save her family money. She also heard good things about Huydic and the wide variety of plays he runs, which also factored into her decision.
Adjusting to being a Lady Wrecker wasn't a problem for her because she had great chemistry with her new teammates and worked well with them from the get-go.
At St. Joseph, she did cross-country in the fall and at Staples, she scored points in the shot put and discus in outdoor track. Van Sant plans on working this spring and won't be doing track.
Leadership is a strength of hers as she served as captain. Van Sant led both by example through her work ethic and verbally by encouraging her teammates.
"It was a great honor being a leader and having the team look up to you," says Van Sant. "[Lady Wreckers senior captain Nicole] Brill and I had something inspirational to say in the huddle whether we're winning or losing and we always told the team to give 120 percent."
Staples had good team camaraderie and more unity than it had in the previous years with all four captains setting a positive tone.
Huydic says, "MK would do everything and anything to help the team win. That's MK's identity. She'll be remembered for being an exemplary role model and for only giving nothing but her best. Players like MK don't come along all the time. She was more worried about team success and victories, helped set a positive tone in practice and a positive atmosphere around her in general. MK's personality played a major role in the camaraderie of the team."
This summer, Van Sant will coach the Summer Lady Wreckers in summer league action. She's looking forward to this experience with confidence.
"It will be a good experience for me," said Van Sant. "I'm knowledgeable about the sport, I know how to work with the girls and I'm not an angry coach. The girls will listen to me because they know I'm knowledgeable about the sport."
Academically, Van Sant took honors courses. Psychology is her favorite subject.
"It's all about knowing how to handle your time and not let anything distract you like TV and the internet," Van Sant says. "It's also a matter of taking advantage of the free periods."
This fall, Van Sant will attend college. She applied to Coastal Carolina, Southern Connecticut and Sacred Heart and is trying to figure out what school fits her needs. If she attends Sacred Heart, she'll major in sports management and at Southern and Coastal Carolina, she will major in elementary education because she wants to teach and coach.
If she attends Division II Southern, she'll play there. Van Sant knows she'll have to raise her game to the next level in order to play for the Lady Owls.
"Focusing on keeping my grades together and working hard," says Van Sant. "I have to work on my speed and make sure my shot is up to par."
Huydic believes Van Sant is capable of playing at the college level.
"MK is a team player," he says. "If she's ever in position to continue to play basketball, she'll do anything and everything to help her team win."