MILLINOCKET, Maine — Foreign exchange student Sigrid Koizar made an impression on the Stearns High School girls basketball team last year that will carry on with this year’s team, said coach Justin Page.
Koizar, named a Bangor Daily News’ All-Maine first teamer in April, was a starting guard for the Austrian women’s under-18 national team when she arrived at Stearns. She quickly made her presence felt, first in field hockey, then in basketball.
It was her interaction with her classmates that created her most enduring impression, though.
“She earned their respect for being a friend long before she ever earned it for being a teammate,” Page said. “She built great friendships that will last forever.”
The point guard led her team in points, rebounds and assists, but also made sure to distribute the ball to her teammates.
“In field hockey, she was a good surprise,” said senior guard Emily Wark. “We knew she had basketball skills, but she blew it out of the water.”
“What we got from Sigrid was she got so many players involved,” Page said. “She challenged them, and they’ll be better skilled this year [for it]. She built their confidence, and the team benefited from that.”
Page is grateful for the year she spent in Millinocket.
“Her talents were a gift to this team,” he said. “It’s something you know only happens once in a lifetime.”
The “gifts” started with her strong desire to keep improving.
“She was a great team leader, not only in games but in practice,” said senior co-captain Alex Mooney. “She pushed herself and she pushed everybody else.”
Wark was one of the beneficiaries.
“She definitely helped me defensively and offensively. She gave me the push to be a stronger offensive player,” said Wark.
Mooney wants the Minutemen to keep that intensity.
“[We] three seniors are really pushing the girls. We knew we had to bring that intensity over to this year,” Mooney said. “It’s not as easy as she made it look, but the intensity level is really high [now].”
Koizar was quiet as well as intense, never bullying or belittling.
“Her attitude was always positive. She always brightened the mood,” said Stearns’ other captain, senior Taylor Pelkey. “She changed a lot of our attitudes. We should be able to learn from that and take it to the tournament this year.”
Just getting to the tournament is not the goal, though, not after getting as close as they did to battling for a state title.
Koizar led the Minutemen to the 2012 Eastern Maine Class C championship game, but they were eliminated in overtime by eventual state titlist Central of Corinth.
“After all we accomplished last year, the girls want to continue it this year,” said Wark, who improved her ballhandling skills with Koizar’s help.
Wark intends to make good use of that skill.
“I’m going to take take her place at point guard. I’ll use what she taught me to get everything started,” said Wark.
After the tourney run ended, according to Page, Koizar started to think about choosing between returning for her senior year or going back to Austria to see her family again and graduate from school there. Ultimately, she chose to go home.
“I think it was hard for her,” Page said. “She stayed with her host family to the end of June.
“I think it was a day-to-day decision for her.”
Page saw how she agonized about the choice, but after offering his thoughts, he let her have her space.
“I think it was a tough call for that young lady,” Page said.
Koizar also benefited from her time in Millinocket based on her play in the European Championships in late July and early August.
Her scoring for the Austrian U-18 team, which finished 10th in Division B, went from 8.1 points per game in 2011 to a team-leading 9.7 this summer. She also led the team in minutes played at 29.7 a game for the seven games, assists at 1.3 and steals at 2.0.
All those averages were better than 2011.
“It was nothing but a positive experience,” Page said of Koizar’s stay. “There were no negatives.”
Blake Smith has been hired as the girls varsity basketball coach at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, according to Tim Smith, the school’s athletic director.
Smith replaces Michelle Paradis, who resigned earlier this year to take a similar job at her alma mater, Nokomis Regional High School of Newport.
Paradis led the Ponies to a berth in the Eastern Maine Class B preliminary round in her first season with the team last winter. Foxcroft finished with a 5-14 record.
Smith, a 1987 Foxcroft Academy graduate, most recently served as the school’s boys freshman basketball coach. He is not related to the athletic director.