Katie Panushka might not have the kind of statistics that jump out at you, but numbers often mean little. A solid work ethic combined with the competitiveness of a champion helped distinguish her more than anything.
"I want to do what it takes to get the job done on a game-to-game basis," Panushka said. "Stats aren't as important as winning the game."
The St. Joseph senior was recognized as The Tribune's Class 1A girls' basketball Most Valuable Player after helping the Jayhawks repeat as state champions. Panushka averaged 12 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. Her impact often was felt well beyond the court.
"She's one of the best leaders I've ever coached," St. Joseph coach Joe Cravens said. "She has a terrific work ethic. I'm not sure she ever took a play off. Her basketball abilities are greatly upstaged by what kind of person she is. She has a very competitive nature on the court that doesn't spill out off the court."
Panushka, who became more of a playmaker this season, improved her midrange game to truly become an all-around player. That development helped her become the Class 1A MVP, an indication of her progression. She scored 24 points in a memorable semifinal win over Rich, two points shy of her career high.
"I'm proud of all the girls," Panushka said. "I couldn't have done it alone. It takes five people to play and win, but we have so much more than that. I'm grateful to my teammates. They're the ones who make me better."
The Jayhawks finished the season undefeated (22-0), including a perfect 8-0 record in Region 17. Those records are particularly noteworthy considering that St. Joseph was coming off a state championship the previous season.
"Last year we snuck in the tournament and won the trophy, so this year we had targets on our back," Panushka said. "There were games we could have done better, but that's where we learned the most. You can't relax mentally."
Panushka, who drew the toughest defensive assignment each game, more than held her own. Her size (5-foot-8) and competitive nature allowed her to buckle down defensively while being able to score in the post.
Panushka, who has committed to Westminster College, credits her coaches, teammates and parents for supporting her.