Amelia Ack can adapt.
Late in her sophomore year at Olympia High School, her father, Brad, was offered a position with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.
Coming off a basketball season in which she was somewhat overshadowed by a solid group of upperclassmen, and averaged just 4.8 points per game, she packed her sneakers and tried out for the team at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, as a junior last winter.
After a week, her new teammates voted her a captain.
“She was an excellent orchestrator, getting all our players involved,” said Generals coach Angie Kelly, a former star at Virginia Tech. “Before Amelia’s arrival, we were consistently a seventh-place team. With her leadership and skills, we improved to fourth place in the very competitive Liberty Conference.”
This school year, Brad is traveling between the two Washingtons for work. His family has returned to its old house and Amelia has returned to her old team.
Bears coach Jackie Robinson, who was hired by Olympia the year Ack was averaging 13 points, six rebounds and three assists per game for Washington-Lee, hadn’t seen her play until he watched an AAU game at The Hub in Centralia last summer.
“I could tell right off the bat she had a high basketball IQ,” Robinson said. “I noticed how much the girls gravitated toward her. Even last year, when someone would worry about what would happen when the six seniors we had graduated, someone else would say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have Amelia back.’ ”
Indeed, Ack and her twin sister, Hannah, who plays volleyball and tennis for the Bears, knew they’d only be gone one school year, which made the transition to the East Coast easier.
“It was my dad’s dream job, but he and my mom discussed it with us,” Ack recalled. “They didn’t want to do anything that would make us too apprehensive.”
A combo guard, who developed a potent 3-point shot the summer after her sophomore year and during her year with the Generals, Ack noted some differences between basketball in the Northwest and the competition she faced in the D.C. metro area.
“You hear East Coast basketball is more physical and it was,” she said. “A couple of the teams we played had four or five girls who were Division I prospects.”
The added competition drove Ack to work even harder, Kelly said.
“Amelia came almost an hour early to our Saturday practices to get extra shots up,” she said.
Ack says there was no East Coast edge to her teammates personalities, though.
“People were a lot more welcoming than I thought they would be,” she said. “Right away, they made me feel comfortable. ... I still stay in touch with a lot of my teammates.”
The Bears (4-6, 3-3 4A South Puget Sound League) host Puyallup on Tuesday night, with Ack as Olympia’s leading scorer.
Robinson said Ack’s leadership has been as important as her scoring.
“The girls look up to her,” Robinson said. “It’s impressive to see the love she gets from her teammates and the love she gives them back.”
Ack believes her bi-coastal basketball résumé has helped her take charge as one of just two seniors on Olympia’s squad.
“My experiences last year, stepping up and being a leader in a new place, helped,” Ack said. “I wasn’t a leader as a sophomore. The first couple of practices this year, I looked around for all those older girls I used to look up to and they weren’t there. I realized I had to fill that role.”
Off the court, Ack, who is being recruited by Division II and III schools and hopes to follow her dad into environmental science, appreciates the chance she had to experience life in a different part of the country.
“We were a five minute drive from D.C. I went to a school that had people from so many different backgrounds,” she said. “On the other hand, moving made me realize how strong the Olympia community really is. I’m glad to be back.”