VAN HORNE — When Laurie Donald initially encountered Madison Weekly, she saw a small, quiet freshman.
“I had heard she was a really good player,” recalled Donald, the girls basketball coach at Benton Community High School. “But I took my first look at her and thought, ‘That’s going to be my point guard?’ ”
Yeah, that’s your point guard. The one that has lifted the Benton program to unprecedented heights.
With Weekly at the reins (she has been in the starting lineup since the first game of her freshman year), Benton has posted a 68-18 record and has made the first two state-tournament appearances in school history.
The Bobcats spent most of last season ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. Despite substantial graduation losses, this year’s team is 13-1 and ranked second in 4A.
Speed has always been a part of Weekly’s game, all the way back to her days with the Cedar Rapids Panthers AAU team, when she played with and against girls a year or two older than her.
“I’ve always been able to get around people,” she said.
Weekly grew up in the Cedar Rapids school district; she attended Coolidge Elementary and Taft Middle School. Her family moved to Atkins when she was in fifth grade, but she didn’t transfer until her freshman year approached.
“High school came, and I wanted to go to a smaller school,” Weekly said. “I liked the block schedule that Benton has during the school day.”
It was the summer of 2009 in which Donald met Weekly.
“She was really quiet,” Donald remembered. “She would talk, but nothing more than necessary. It took me most of her freshman year to figure her out.”
Weekly also had the body of a distance runner. As a freshman, she won a state track championship in the 1,500 meters.
That doesn’t always lend itself well to the physical nature of basketball, though, and Weekly found herself on the floor a lot.
“We were talking about this over Christmas in the weight room,” Donald said. “When she was a freshman, she couldn’t lift the bar, even without weights on it.
“She looked so small out there, but when she started playing, it’s like she grew 5 inches.”
The strength has come gradually, and the forays to the floor have decreased. In the Bobcats’ win over Marion on Tuesday, Weekly absorbed contact on an outside shot and converted a four-point play.
Benton went 11-11 when Weekly was a freshman, then 20-5 as a sophomore. The Bobcats made their first state tournament that year, falling to Mount Vernon in the 3A quarterfinals.
Everything aligned for Benton through the 2011-12 campaign. The Bobcats enjoyed an undefeated regular season and a Wamac Conference West Division championship.
But less than two minutes into the regional final against Keokuk, Weekly hit the floor.
“I was driving for a layup and I got bodied by a big girl,” Weekly said. “I landed right on my wrist.”
Weekly suffered a compound fracture. Benton went on to beat Keokuk without its leader, but couldn’t handle Ballard in the state quarterfinals.
“It was very difficult for me to sit and watch,” Weekly said. “The team still fought really hard out there.”
By summer, the wrist had healed. And in July, Weekly committed to play at the University of Northern Iowa. The Panthers will be getting a scorer (she averages 16.6 points per game) and a playmaker (nearly 5 steals per game and an assist-to-steal ratio of more than 2-to-1).
And UNI will be getting a kid that understands her role as role model.
“She’s one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with,” said senior post Sara Petrzelka. “She wants to make everybody better.”
Donald said, “Something I noticed about Madison, even when she was young, was that she would always run after a ball that went out of bounds, just so the officials didn’t have to chase it. It seems like a small thing, but people notice and appreciate stuff like that.
“And after games, even though she’s a pretty quiet kid, she’ll sit and visit with the little girls who come to watch us play.
“There are a lot of little girls out here that want to be Madison Weekly.”