WARSAW – Jennifer Walker-Crawford committed herself to becoming a better basketball player this past offseason.
Now, months later, the Warsaw senior standout is enjoying the fruits of her labor.
As is her team.
Walker-Crawford, a silky-smooth forward, has had a breakout final season for the No. 8 Tigers. Warsaw, thanks in large part to the greatly-improved play of Walker-Crawford, hosts No. 11 Fort Wayne South Side Saturday at approximately 6 p.m. in the Class 4-A North Semistate.
Warsaw, in the semi state for the first time since 2004, sits at 24-1. One more win Saturday evening in the Tiger Den and coach Michelle Harters’s squad will play for a Class 4-A state championship on March 2 in Terre Haute.
The dedication Walker-Crawford put in between her junior and senior seasons is not lost on her teammates or coach.
“People have no idea the amount of work, the amount of effort that Jen put in during the offseason,” said senior star Lindsay Baker, who will play at the University of Toledo. “We had a long talk and she just worked harder. There was not a doubt to me that she was going to tear it up this year and she has.
“The thing is that Jen was a good player last year. She just had trouble finishing shots. Now, she knows she’s going to make them. She’s worked so hard to get to that point. The other thing is that Jen is just so fun to be around. She’s sassy.”
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to how much more productive Walker-Crawford has been this year. The Kentucky Wesleyan University recruit averaged 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game her junior season as the Tigers went 16-5. She shot 31.5 percent from the field (including 1-13 on 3-pointers) and 67.8 percent from the line while playing a total of 445 minutes. Walker-Crawford, this season, leads her team in scoring at 14 ppg., is second in rebounding at 6.2 per game. She is shooting 46.6 percent from the field (including 9-22 on 3-pointers) and 80.2 percent from the line (with the most attempts on the team) and has played 678 minutes.
“Jen was very disappointed in her overall season last year and we knew she was capable of more than she showed,” said Harter, now in her fifth season as the Warsaw head coach after many years as an assistant in the highly-successful program. “She committed herself to be a better player.
“We knew she was a great athlete and then she gained the confidence and it clicked for her. She’s just continued to get better. She’s matured, she understands the game better and she doesn’t dwell on mistakes now.
“I’ve been very pleased with her defense for us this season. It’s been tremendous. She’s just been consistent all year for us and has become a great all-around player. I think we have two Indiana All-Star candidates in Lindsay and Jen. They are both very worthy of that honor.”
Walker-Crawford admits that she spent most of her summer working on her game.
“I was in the gym a lot,” said Walker-Crawford Wednesday at Media Day. “I pushed myself to extremes, both physically and mentally in my workouts. I made them so hard that now the games are not that hard.
“A lot of it was growing up for me. I matured and that’s made a big difference. The great thing is that we’re a close-knit team. I know my teammates have my back, win or lose, and that’s a great thing.”
Walker-Crawford, thanks to her dedication to her craft, is a matchup nightmare. The athletic 6-1 forward can play inside, giving the Tigers a lethal 1-2 post punch with junior standout Nikki Grose, or she can step out and hit the midrange jumper or put it on the deck and drive. She can even stick the occasional 3-pointer, like hitting a pivotal pair last Saturday night in the regional championship game win over Merrillville at Valparaiso.
“It’s huge that Nikki and I play so well together,” pointed out Walker-Crawford of her 6-1 talented teammate, who averages 11.5 points and a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game. “And out guards do a great job of getting the ball to us.”
Walker-Crawford came up huge as Warsaw edged No. 5 Merrillville 42-41 to claim the Valparaiso Regional title. She had 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting (including 2-of-3 on threes) and pulled down 11 rebounds. She was clutch with nine big points in the key third quarter when Warsaw outscored the Pirates 13-8 to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead.
Walker-Crawford, following the thrilling one-point regional title game win, was very emotional as the tears flowed freely amid a chaotic celebration.
“I think part of it was that I was very tired Saturday,” said Walker-Crawford of her emotions pouring out. “It was a long day and all of us dug do deep both physically and mentally to pull those games out.”
Walker-Crawford, one of five seniors for Warsaw, says she’s not thought ahead to what one more victory celebration may be like Saturday night in her final high school game on her home floor.
But, the talented Tiger does know one thing about all the blood, sweat and tears she poured into making herself the outstanding player she is today.
“All the time and work I put in was definitely worth it,” said Walker-Crawford. “And not just for me. To see the excitement on my teammates’ faces has been priceless. That makes everything I did worth it for me.”
Spoken like a true teammate who has earned everything she gets.