LACEY – Never once has Jori Skorpik been told she’s too small to play basketball. It’s not like she’d listen to that sort of talk anyway.
“I’ve always been determined,” Skorpik said. “Even since I was little.”
Skorpik, at 5-foot-11/2, is the smallest player in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Still, as the starting point guard for Saint Martin’s University, the redshirt freshman plays a big role.
Before the season began, Saint Martin’s coach Tim Healy projected Skorpik to be the team’s spark plug off the bench.
But when junior Britnie Lining, a 2009 North Thurston graduate, and freshman Mackenzie Taylor, out of Freeman High School near Spokane, suffered season-ending injuries early in camp, Healy turned to Skorpik.
“I’m hard on point guards. I expect them to know a lot,” Healy said. “She’s never blinked an eye (at) what I’ve asked of her. She knows what I want. (It’s the) connection we have that makes it really easy to coach her.”
Skorpik can sympathize with Linging and Taylor about injured knees – she has 11 scars from multiple surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in both knees while at Kennewick’s Kamiakin High School.
Skorpik was a three-sport athlete at Kamiakin, playing soccer and basketball and running track, but she had more options to play collegiate soccer than basketball. She was an all-state striker at Kamiakin. She was the co-MVP of the Columbia Basin/Big Nine League as a senior in the 2009 fall season, tallying 20 goals and eight assists in helping the Braves to the Class 3A state semifinals.
She briefly thought about playing both sports in college – even at Saint Martin’s – but the overlap of seasons contributed to her decision to stick with basketball.
“It’s been my dream since I was little to play college basketball,” Skorpik said.
And play she has. She is one of three players to start all 12 games for the youthful Saints, who resume GNAC play on the road at Montana State Billings on Dec. 29. Skorpik leads the team in minutes played (27.2 a game) and assists (1.8 per game) while averaging 3.8 points a game.
Despite her size, she’s hard-nosed on defense, using her speed and quickness to flummox taller players.
“I love playing defense,” Skorpik said. “That motivates me. Being the point guard, I feel really big, but in reality, I’m not. You have to be a leader on the court as a point guard, and that’s a really big role to play.”
Added Healy: “She’s not intimidated. Being competitive makes the difference. She’s willing to step up and do whatever it takes.”
Skorpik comes from a small family, but playing point guard in college runs in her family. Her older sister, Ari, at 5-2, was the starting point guard at the University of Idaho from 1993-97 and still ranks in the top 10 in multiple categories for the Vandals – including sixth all-time in career free throws (323), seventh in 3-pointers made (124), eighth in steals (195) and ninth in assists (307).
But the younger Skorpik’s height turned off a lot of college coaches.
In fact, Saint Martin’s was the only school to recruit Skorpik for basketball. Healy looked past her size and saw her leadership skills on the court.
Now, after she redshirted the 2010-11 season and learned behind then-senior point guard Roni Jo Mielke, she is rewarding her coach for his foresight.
With a combined eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Healy said so much youth and inexperience will make for an up-and-down season. He has used a different starting lineup in nearly every game, but the one staple has been the player he calls Jo Jo.
“She’s earned what she’s got, there’s no question about that,” Healy said.