The impact of one player on a basketball team can be immense.
But it’s not as common that one basketball player has a big impact on the program, overall.
But with Gina Ballesteros leading the way, the Ulysses girls basketball team made its first state appearance in 38 years this season, finishing 18-5.
“She was a crucial component to do that,” Ulysses head coach Tim Hofferber said. “She sets the standard in practice that the others try to follow. That’s a vital thing to have as a coach.”
She also turned in 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game as Ulysses’ focal point on offense and defense.
For helping break the Tigers’ state drought, Ballesteros is The Telegram’s girls player of the year.
The Tigers had last been to state in 1981, a span not lost on the Ulysses players, Hofferber said. It was something they relished to end, and did so by routing both of their sub-state opponents, 43-31 over Buhler and 35-21 over Wamego.
Their run ended in the state quarterfinals to defending state champion Baldwin, 47-41. But the drought never would have ended without Ballesteros, who could not be reached for comment this week.
“Everybody notices her offense, and certainly she can do that, but she does a lot of stuff, averaging almost six rebounds per game,” Hofferber said. “I have her defended down low in our zone. She’s probably slightly undersized down there, but she is so smart about how she plays.”
Her offensive numbers could have been even better if her reputation had not followed her from seasons past, as a previous first team Telegram All-Area selection.
“We talked with our team and asked them before every game what they thought the opposing team’s scouting report would be,” Hofferber said. “Well, they’re going to try to stop Gina. That says a lot about her.”
But Ballesteros took the challenge and helped get her teammates in high-percentage scoring spots, Hofferber said.
Not that she was not able to get a bucket or spark the offense in other times, as well.
“One of the reasons we like her down (low in the zone defense) is because she can transition into a quick offense from down there,” he said. “Usually, a post would get the rebound and have to pass out to start the offense, but she can just get the rebound and go immediately.”
It’s just part of her versatility as a 5-9 guard.
“I move her to point guard when our sub packages come in, and I move her up top on defense for sub packages, too,” Hofferber said. “It’s been a great advantage for us.”