Her teammates knew she was approaching a milestone. Her coaches knew. Her parents were even aware of it. It seemed like everyone knew that senior Lauren Nolke was approaching 1,000 points for her high school career.
“I didn’t think I had a chance to get 1,000 points,” she admitted. “After I made a three, everyone started cheering, and Coach (Tonya) Mirts had to tell me what they were cheering about.”
Nolke reached that milestone in a rout of Hazelwood Central on Feb. 9. It gave validation to Nolke’s up-and-down, but nonetheless brilliant, career for the Hickman girls basketball team. A week later, Nolke found herself standing in her game uniform in Hickman’s gym for the last time, with her achievements publicized in front of the home crowd.
While her 10-point performance in Hickman’s 65-37 rout of Jackson Central on Friday night did not come close to her 25-point performance a week earlier, the crowd still stood and cheered for Nolke in her last home game as it did a week ago. It was a fitting end to a career that has included two dominant, winning seasons.
In Nolke’s freshman season, the Kewpies went 30-2, losing in the state championship game to St. Joseph’s Academy. While she did not see a considerable amount of playing time on a team dominated by all-state selections Amy and Jodi Bolerjack, Nolke was able to get a taste of playing on varsity for an accomplished team.
“I played a lot in the fourth quarters of games,” Nolke said, “because there were a lot of blowouts. I just enjoyed the ride.”
After the runner-up finish in 2004, Nolke said expectations were muted for the next year.
“We knew we were losing a lot of seniors,” she said.
The Kewpies struggled to a 13-15 finish in Nolke’s sophomore season. She saw her first season as a starter end in even more disappointment with the retirement of Mirts.
“I was disappointed because she’s a great coach, and no matter who came in, I wouldn’t benefit as much from it,” she said. “I tried to make it as positive as possible, though.”
As she expected, the Kewpies finished a dismal 11-17 in her junior year. Nolke said that it was hard for the team to mesh with new coach Curt Riley, and the Kewpies lost a lot of games by slim margins. New hope came after that year, however, when Riley left and Mirts returned for Nolke’s senior season.
“It raised my hopes for my senior year,” Nolke said of Mirts’ return. “I thought we had the opportunity to win a lot of games, and especially when Yvonne came, the expectations were out of the roof.”
The combination of Mirts’ return and the transfer of junior Yvonne Anderson, a former Alabama player of the year, immediately put the Kewpies into the state championship conversation. The year has lived up to Nolke’s high expectations. The Kewpies are riding a 24-game winning streak and are ranked second in the state in Class 5. There have been more highs than lows this year for Nolke, with arguably the best moment of her career occurring against Hazelwood Central on Feb. 9.
Coming into the game, Nolke had no idea that she was approaching 1,000 points.
She rolled to 19 points in the first half that night, and her parents were told at halftime that she only needed four more points to reach the milestone.
“Of course, that was the one night I forgot to bring the camera,” said Lauren’s mother, Debbie Nolke, laughing while her father, Rod Nolke, shook his head and smiled.
It was only fitting that Lauren Nolke, known across the state for her accuracy behind the arc, would eventually reach the milestone with a 3-pointer.
“I (have) signed a lot of white balls,” she said, talking about the white commemorative basketball, signed by the team, given to Hickman players when they reach the milestone. “I never thought I would get one of my own, I never thought I would do it.”
After the rout against Jackson Central ended Friday, Mirts took time to praise her floor leader’s career.
“She’s a quiet leader,” Mirts said. “She’s the type of kid that can put an arm around a teammate, and when she needs to, kick you in the rear in a positive way. She’s got that kind of response with her teammates, and she commands respect with the way she plays basketball.”
Lauren Nolke said basketball consumes her life, leaving little time for anything else. However, her parents and coach are quick to note that her success in the gym is paralleled by her success in the classroom.
“She’s a great student,” Mirts said.
“She puts as much effort into her schoolwork as she does on the court,” Rod Nolke said.
“You read about her in the paper, and it’s all about basketball,” Debbie Nolke said. “But you don’t hear about what a great student she is.”
Rod Nolke beamed while talking about his daughter, announcing that along with her full basketball scholarship to Missouri Western she has an interview next weekend about a possible full academic scholarship. Lauren, though, has enough of her parents’ doting.
“I’m not a nerd, though,” she said.
While there will be no more home games in Lauren Nolke’s high school career, it is far from over. On Wednesday, Hickman will travel to Jefferson City for the district tournament semifinals against the winner of the Helias-Smith Cotton game. If all goes according to plan, Lauren Nolke will have two more games in her hometown. The state semifinals and championship are played at Mizzou Arena.
A state championship ring would probably go nicely with Lauren Nolke’s white basketball.