LAKE FOREST — When she was in middle school, Lake Forest girls basketball player Grace Torkelson had an advantage over her male classmates.
“I was taller than all the boys,” said Torkelson, who attended Lake Bluff Middle School. “They’d be like, ‘We’ll be taller than you in high school.’ Some of them are, and some of them aren’t.”
Now a junior, Torkelson stands 6-foot-2 (father Jim and mother Corrine are also 6-2). She is right in that there are some classmates who are taller than her. But on the basketball court, Torkelson still enjoys the same vertical advantage she did in middle school. And she’s been using it to clean up the boards.
Through the Scouts’ first 18 games, Torkelson averaged 7.4 rebounds per game. But she struggled early this season. It was after a conversation with her coach during halftime of a Dec. 18 game against Grant that her mindset shifted and her average spiked.
“She shot terrible from the field, couldn’t buy a bucket,” Scouts coach Kyle Wilhelm said. “We talked about focusing on rebounds and going back to what makes her a dominating player.”
Torkelson finished with 17 rebounds. She said she’s been a much more aggressive player since, conscious of the attitude and ethos needed to clean up the glass.
“It takes hustle and determination. You have to want it,” Torkelson said. “There’s not a lot of skill in it.”
But dogged grit can only take a player so far. If practice is the gateway to basketball excellence, then Torkelson is working toward mastering the art of rebounding.
Each day at practice, Lake Forest does a 2-on-2 drill called “blue gold.” While both sets of players stand around the free throw line, a ball is passed into play. Once a shot is attempted, a free-for-all for the rebound ensues. Torkelson said she enjoys the physicality of the drill.
“That’s the fun part, how to push around the defender and get that rebound,” Torkelson said. “You have to beat them, push them.”
During a Jan. 8 game against Vernon Hills, the Scouts were struggling to score. But they were getting possessions as Torkelson would crash down from the perimeter on missed shots, snatching the ball out of the air. Her 13 rebounds were further validation that she’s listening to coaches and taking conversations with teammates to heart.
“As a team we were talking about how everyone has to figure out their little jobs. We encourage everyone to find that thing and try and accomplish it in every game,” senior forward Annie Keller said. “It’s easy for [Torkelson] to be disappointed when her shot is not going but [Wilhelm] is doing a great job making sure her job is to always crash the boards.”
And that’s one area where Torkelson’s height gives her the upper hand. Some of her male middle school classmates may now be taller, but most can’t rebound like she can.
“I like rebounding, I have grown into [my body] and have more control over it.” Torkelson said. “Being tall helps.”