Ustby — finding a new level — repeats as Post Bulletin Girls Basketball Player of the Year
Aaron Berg can’t help but imagine the best player he’s coached becoming proficient from 3-point range.
The Rochester Lourdes coach pictures Alyssa Ustby doing that and he cringes. The cringes go out to anyone who’s going to have to guard her.
At the University of North Carolina, where the 6-feet-1 do-everything (almost) Ustby will play the next four years, Berg all but knows that’s going to happen. She’s going to become a 3-point artist.
Ustby already is everything else. That includes — for the second straight year — the Post Bulletin All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"Three-point shooting is something she’ll need to improve at the next level," Berg said. "And (North Carolina) will make that happen. Once she does that, she’s going to be a complete player. If they play her at small forward, I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to guard her. She’s going to be a mismatch."
In southeastern Minnesota, "mismatch" and Ustby have been synonymous the past two years.
"We spent a week trying to convince our kids that Alyssa is just another kid that we’ll face this year," Goodhue coach Josh Wieme said with a laugh. "But she definitely proved that she’s a lot more than just another good player. Her size, combined with her skill set, make her an unstoppable matchup."
Ustby’s incredibly sturdy 6-1 frame, combined with her speed and agility not only made the senior a matchup nightmare, but also the most versatile player around. Ustby played everywhere on the court, including point guard, where her ball handling easily allowed that. More often than not it was Ustby, also this week named Class AA's Player of the Year by PrepGirlsHoops.com, bringing the ball up court for Lourdes in pressure situations. And that was on a No. 1-ranked team in the state that included two other excellent ball handlers.
Once she’d driven it past half court, Ustby would then often drop the ball off to a guard, then glide down to the low post where she’d operate like a center. Or she’d catch it at a wing and drive to the hoop, or pull up for a mid-range jumper, or zing a pass to an open teammate, head up, always probing.
This season, that versatility and skill led to her averaging 26 points, 4 assists, 12 rebounds and 3 steals per game.
"What I’m going to remember most about Alyssa is her athleticism," Berg said. "It was the control she had over her body. She does things that we see 5-6 guards doing. But she’s doing it with a 6-1 frame. And baseline to baseline, there’s almost nobody faster than Alyssa."
Ustby was also best when it mattered most. The senior scored 16 of her 22 points in the second half in a tough 50-46 win against Goodhue in the Section One, Class AA championship game that was tight throughout.
In the state quarterfinals, the Eagles continually looked to Ustby early as they built a big first-half lead and then knocked off Concordia Academy-Roseville 71-55. Ustby had 25 points in that game, 18 in a game-defining first half.
According to Berg, the latest incarnation of Ustby — the 2019-20 version — was at an entirely different level.
More than anything else, that had to do with her defense. Ustby went to work on it over the summer, determined to weaponize all of her athletic gifts at that end of the floor.
It worked. She averaged three steals per game and became the team’s designated stopper, routinely guarding the other team’s best scorer, no matter the position.
"My defense really came around from ‘repping’ it over the summer," Ustby said. "I’d go to the (Rochester Athletic Club) or to our driveway and practice shuffling while keeping my hands up. I love defense and take so much pride in it. Our defense is what makes our offense work."
As much joy as Ustby took from this season — the No. 1-ranked Eagles finishing 28-2 — the ending was brutal.
After winning its state quarterfinal game and being two victories away from a state title, Lourdes’ season ended. It wasn’t a loss that did the Eagles in, but instead the coronavirus and COVID-19, the Minnesota State High School League calling off the rest of the tournament due to fears of spreading the disease.
Ustby was initially crushed. But in the days since, she’s come to terms with it. Also the most mature player that Berg said he has ever coached, Ustby has opted for finding positives in what happened.
"The best thing we can do is take what happened and learn from it," Ustby said. "There are silver linings."
Points:26.3 per game.
Rebounds:12.1 per game.
Assists:3.9 per game.
Steals:3.1 per game.