Massengale earns Player of the Year honors

BOLINGBROOK, Ill. -- Tennessee coach Pat Summitt got addicted to Ariel Massengale’s game almost instantaneously.

Summitt isn’t one who normally is willing to show a need for a specific player. She’s been coaching, recruiting and winning for 37 years, and that often speaks for itself without having to go all out for a recruit.

But in the case of Massengale, Summitt coveted her from the first game she saw to the day she signed the Bolingbrook senior. In Summitt’s mind, if she could obtain Massengale, the Volunteers would be set at point guard for years to come.

“That’s the one player I told our staff, ‘We have to get Massengale,’” Summitt recalled. “‘I don’t care how many times we have to see her. I want her at Tennessee.’

“I think Ariel is the best point guard in the class. I just love her game. She pushes the ball hard. She’s a gritty little defender. She’s just a hard-nosed player. The versatility in her game is very impressive.”

Massengale has mad skills, but she also wins like mad, and that’s even more desirable for a coach. Bolingbrook has already won two state championships with Massengale running the point and could capture its third this weekend. Add Massengale’s ability with her success, and she was a no-brainer for 2010-2011 ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Player of the Year.

Few players in the state’s history have won as much and played as large of a role as Massengale has for the Raiders from the day she first put on Bolingbrook’s uniform.

Massengale stepped in as a freshman and immediately proved she was going to be something special. Ironically, Bolingbrook lost Massengale’s high school debut, but behind her team-high leading 13 points a game, the Raiders ultimately reached the state championship. Bolingbrook would fall to Whitney Young 54-45 in the title game despite a 22-point effort by Massengale.

Bolingbrook coach Tony Smith knew it was only the beginning to what Massengale was capable of. She had a fire in her he rarely saw in a high school player.

“She came in as one of the more competitive kids,” Smith said. “That’s what you look for out of a point guard is a kid who wants to be the most competitive kid. She had those qualities early on.

“The ability was definitely there. She has great size. She has one of the quickest first steps out of any guard I’ve seen in a while.”

Bolingbrook’s loss in the 2008 state championship game would be Massengale’s last to an in-state opponent to date.

A year later, she and the Raiders got their revenge on Whitney Young and defeated the Dolphins 53-29 in the Class 4A state championship. Last season, the Raiders did it again, beating Whitney Young 60-50 in the title game.

On Friday, Bolingbrook plays Whitney Young for the fourth consecutive season with this year’s meeting comingin the state semifinals. Entering the matchup, Massengale has a 109-12 career record. Bolingbrook’s only two losses this season were to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

“It’s truly a blessing,” Massengale said. “Yes, it’s beyond expectations. Being younger and growing up, my goal was to win a state championship. The fact that I’ve won two already and have a chance to win another one is just a blessing.

“It’s kind of like we’re supposed to go downstate. That’s what we work hard for. This is what we do at Bolingbrook. We win state championships. If we don’t win a championship, it’s like we didn’t accomplish our goal.”

Smith credited Massengale’s leadership to why Bolingbrook has met those massive expectations the past three seasons. Ever since she was handed the point guard reins as a sophomore, she’s never steered the Raiders wrong.

“Our team will go as far as our best players will take them,” Smith said. “That’s just it. If the team comes out and plays down, that’s because our leaders played down. Ariel did a great job this year of not getting a big head, not getting lazy and just coming in every day working trying to get better. That forced our other kids to get better and better also.

“She was a true leader for us. She’s grown up a lot. She’s taken ownership of the team. It was great to see her grow as a leader. Maturity has been the biggest part of it. She’s a kid who loves to win. That’s all she did was win.”

Massengale expected nothing less.

“I think it’s my personality,” she said. “I’ve always been a leader, always wanted to be first, always wanted to be No. 1.”

Surrounded by other Division I players, Massengale isn’t required to put up jaw-dropping numbers on a nightly basis. There have been games where she’s taken over when the Raiders have struggled, but often she’s been her steady self.

Her numbers over the last three seasons reflect her consistency. She averaged 13.7 points and 4.9 assists as sophomore. She averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 points as a junior. She’s averaged 14.6 points and 6.3 assists this season.

ESPN HoopGurlz values Massengale’s all-around game, too. Massengale is the No. 1-ranked point guard in the Class of 2011 and the No. 4 overall player.

Summitt is just ecstatic Massengale is hers for the next four seasons and not another coach’s. Summitt couldn’t imagine playing her down the road.

But what Summitt could envision was soon seeing Massengale in an orange uniform running the show for the Volunteers.

“We average 17,000 most nights,” Summitt said. “She deserves to be on that stage. I can’t wait to give her the point position. I can’t wait to see her in Knoxville. I can’t wait for her to be in orange and running the point.”