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PREP FOCUS: Exchange student makes impact off Molalla's bench

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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JIM BESEDA - Veronika Malcekova dribbles under pressure from Elmira's Alex Olsen during Molalla's 66-60 non-conference home win last Friday.The basketball game that Veronika Malcekova played while growing up in Slovakia and the one she plays now as a backup wing for Molalla High are not the same.

In Slovakia, games are divided into four 10-minute quarters, the 3-point line is a foot farther away from the basket, and there’s a 24-second shot clock.

Other than that, the games are essentially the same.

Malcekova went through an adjustment period as she adapted to Molalla’s defensive-minded style, landing a spot in the Indians’ varsity roster as a reserve wing.

The 5-7 senior foreign exchange student is one of five players in the rotation to score in all of the Indians' first 11 games, averaging 5.7 points.

“Veronika is a nice addition,” Molalla coach Phil Wiesner says. “One thing that has helped her to fit in is just her play itself. She’s a great kid as far as getting along with people, but her ability to shoot the ball and run the floor earned her some early acceptance with her teammates.

Malcekova played for nine years in Slovakia, including a stint last year on a club team in her hometown of Bratislava that advanced to the Final Four and finished third in the girls’ under-19 national championships.

Veronika MalcekovaShe brought a defense-first mentality and some touch from beyond the 3-point arc with her to Molalla, yet had to go through tryouts like every other prospective player and prove that she was worthy of a varsity roster spot.

“I went to a couple of open gyms before the tryout and met a couple girls from the varsity team,” Malcekova says. “We played against each other and I felt pretty confident, but I wasn’t like, ‘Yes, I’m going to be on varsity.’ I felt it would be challenging, but I could make it.

“When the tryouts came, it wasn’t the best week of my life, I have to admit, but I was really trying. It was mostly about my defense, I guess, and then my 3-point shots came, and finally coach told me believed I could play varsity, so he gave me a chance and now I’m here.”

Club teams play basketball year round in Slovakia, but Malcekova says the sport ranks somewhere behind soccer, hockey and tennis in terms of popularity.

She also says game nights in Slovakia are nothing like game nights in Molalla.

“It’s just crazy,” Malcekova says. “I love the atmosphere at the games. Back in Slovakia, we don’t have it like this — the band, the people, the students … it’s amazing.

“I love how coach gets to play everyone. And I really love the fact that we don’t have five starters, but we have 10 great players who can play in any situation.”

When she’s on the floor, Malcekova doesn’t always look to score, but if she has an open shot at the basket, she typically doesn’t hesitate to let it fly.

“From the very beginning, defense has been my priority,” she says. “Even though it doesn’t always look like it, I’m always trying on defense. And from good defense, you can get good offense.

“Playing defense is about will, and I can always find motivation to guard people and be really good at it. For me, personally, I really believe in my 3-point shots. I really like those, but I don’t try to push it, you know?”

In last Friday’s 66-60 home win over Elmira, Amanda Clarizio, Jenna Potter and Malcekova scored a combined 19 points off the Molalla bench, helping the Indians (now 10-2) to their sixth win in seven games.

Malcekova knocked down a 3-pointer that gave Molalla its largest lead, 47-36, with 2:31 to play in the third quarter. She then came out of the game a couple minutes later with the Indians leading 49-39.

“She plays with confidence and she also plays with some maturity because she is a senior,” Wiesner says. “The biggest thing she had to overcome was just fitting in, because we’ve got kids who have been playing together for quite some time.

“I think the consistency of her shooting and the fact that she knew what she was doing has helped. The terminology we use during the game doesn’t seem to be an issue. If there are any terms she hasn’t heard before, she figures it out real quick.

“She has been a nice fit and done real well. I’ve been real happy with her.”

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