Small Queen plays big role
PLAINVIEW – Like any typical afternoon in Wayland Baptist University’s Hutcherson Center, the Flying Queens basketball team is hard at work. The Queens rotate in and out of defensive drills as the coach pushes them to improve their positioning and footwork.
Back-and-forth they go, taking turns trying to break down their teammate’s defense, then rotating to the defensive side of the ball to try and stop the next Queen in line. Nothing flashy, just hard work.
Suddenly Nikki Wallace stops. She steps out of line and hurries over to a recruit who is working out with the team. As the drill continues she pulls the recruit aside to explain the technique. As the drill rotates back to Wallace’s side of the floor, coach waits a moment while his point guard finishes making her point. Wallace quickly jumps back in line and the drills commence.
While the break in action momentarily disrupted the rhythm of the drill, you won’t hear head coach Will Flemons complaining. In fact, that type of leadership is what he expects out of the junior business major from Haskell.
“The point guard is one of the hardest positions on the floor to play,” Flemons said. “(Nikki) has to be an extension of the coach. If the offense is not running smoothly, we turn to her first, before we do anything else.”
Wallace was thrust into the starting point guard position last year when the team’s leading scorer, Cassie Birkenfeld, was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Wallace filled in nicely and has grown into her leadership role. In a season that has already seen its share of ups and downs for the Queens (3-3), the quiet, unassuming point guard is the one player Flemons has been able to count on night in and night out.
“Right now, Nikki is kind of our constant,” Flemons said. “She has been playing great defense. She has really done a great job of getting us in our offense. She is running our primary and secondary systems and doing a ton of good things.”
At 5-6, Wallace is the smallest player on the Queens’ roster, but she is carrying a tremendous load. Not only has she shouldered the responsibility of the team and maintained her high academic standards, but Wallace has faced some personal trials this year.
Wallace said she was raised in a strong Christian home with a family that is close and cares for each other. Earlier this year, her sister suffered a miscarriage at five months pregnant. Then, a cousin died while on a family vacation from complications of an enlarged heart and a few months ago, Wallace’s aunt passed away after suffering a stroke.
“It’s been a hard year,” said Wallace, who missed an annual family gathering while on a road trip with the Queens. She said every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas her family gathers for a joint holiday celebration at her grandparents’ house. Although she missed the gathering this year, she said it was hard on her family.
Still, the young woman has held herself together and met each complication and challenge head on.
“I’ve tried to stay with it,” she said. “Just keep playing and keep my grades up. I’ve been doing as much as I can, working hard and praying. That’s all I can do.”
Wallace’s hard work is paying off on the court. She is averaging nearly seven points, three rebounds and more than five assists a game. She has a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and she has stolen the ball 10 times in the team’s first six games. Still, Flemons wants to see more from her.
“I would love for her to be more vocal,” Flemons said. “She does everything good, but I need her to step up and be more vocal because everybody on the team respects her.”
It’s a criticism the soft-spoken Wallace has heard before.
“(Coach Flemons) tells me that every single day,” Wallace said. “My high school coach (Melynn Hunt) always told me that. I never said a word.
“But I’m trying …” Wallace grinned. “I’ve gotten better in practice. Every once in awhile I try to work with somebody, or I’ll tell everybody to work hard … I’m trying.”
Wallace has whole-heartedly accepted her role as a leader and is excited about what the remainder of the season holds for her team. Although the Queens are young, Wallace said they have the potential to be better than last year’s squad that finished 18-11 overall and 11-7 in the Sooner Athletic Conference, earning a trip to the NAIA national tournament.
“I think we have better athletes this year,” Wallace said. “We have better team communication on and off the court. Last year that really bothered us. We play a lot better as a team this year than we did last year.”
Wayland opens its tough conference schedule on Jan. 3 when the Queens travel to Lubbock to take on rival Lubbock Christian University at 6 p.m. in the Rip Griffin Center. It’s one game that Wallace is looking forward to.
“We are pretty big rivals,” she said. “We will not lose to LCU, I can promise you that ... even if they have to drag me off the floor.”
Wallace said the early part of the season has been kind of “rocky” as the Queens try to work new players into the system, and with the loss of junior Rachel Smith to injury last week, things will have to change even more. But she is ready for the challenge and she knows much of the team’s success or failure will fall on her.
“It’s pressure on your shoulder, but somebody has to do it,” Wallace grinned. “I like it … I love it!”