Sports

Brotherly love helps Frank excel in senior season at TJ

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Nobody has ever accused Jefferson senior point guard Kalei Frank of being soft on the basketball court.

Her early years were spent playing sports as the only girl in a house full of athletic brothers. Needless to say, she was treated just like another Frank brother when it came to athletic competitions.

“I grew up playing with them and they were older and stuff,” Frank said. “They would play hard and would be physical with me. Some of them are pretty big and I would get beat up.”

The rugged Frank family basketball games have helped the 5-foot-6 Kalei develop into one of the tougher and skilled all-around players in the South Puget Sound League South Division.

“She brings an intensity and focus to our team that some kids struggle with,” said TJ head coach Jerry Krueger. “She really leads by example.”

The respect Frank gets comes from being the only three-year varsity player on the Raider roster and the only girl at TJ to play in a state tournament.

As a sophomore, she was a part-time player on a team that finished 19-9 in the SPSL and won a game at the Class 4A State Basketball Championships in the Raiders’ second straight trip to the Tacoma Dome in 2003.

“My sophomore year was a lot of fun,” Frank said. “We really played as a team.”

That wasn’t the case last season at TJ. The Raiders struggled all year and finished just 1-19 with their only win coming on the last day of the season over first-year Beamer.

“She has had an interesting career,” Krueger said. “Last year she was kind of a helpless junior because we had some senior leadership problems. This year she is the clear-cut leader of the team.”

That leadership is paying off this season. The Raiders have put together a respectable 7-9 record and still hold a slim chance of rolling into the postseason as a top-five team in the SPSL South.

“It was hard and kind of difficult going from my sophomore year to last year,” Frank said. “There was just some attitude stuff and we didn’t really play as a team.”

Last year was also Krueger’s first year at the helm of the Jefferson program. He got the job in late summer after Mike Grady quit to become the athletic director at TJ.

“This year’s been day and night,” Krueger said. “Last year never really felt like my team. I didn’t have the girls buying in. It was a difficult transition (from Grady).”

But Frank’s presence has made things go a little smoother for Krueger, especially this season. The coach and player are in their fifth year together in the past six basketball seasons. Krueger was the head girls basketball coach at Kilo Junior High before getting the job at TJ.

“He’s a good coach,” Frank said. “He and Grady are a lot different. Grady yells and is more vocal about stuff and Krueger is not. But both are good coaches, they want you to play hard.”

And Frank has been doing just that. Her statistics are pretty impressive, leading the Raiders in scoring (11.3 a game), assists, total rebounds, 3-point percentage, steals and field-goal percentage, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story of the impact she is having at TJ.

“She is the cornerstone of the whole thing,” Krueger said. “She has really stepped it up lately and put together a stretch of solid efforts.”

In the Raiders’ last five games, Frank is averaging 16.7 points and over 10 rebounds, including a 24-point, 16-rebound effort in a win over Federal Way Jan. 21, which earned her the honor of being named the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association/Seattle Times Class 4A State Athlete of the Week.

During Frank’s solid stretch, TJ won three of the five contests, keeping them in the playoff hunt in the SPSL South with a 5-9 record in league play. The Raiders currently sit in a three-way tie for sixth place. The top-five move on to the SPSL Tournament.

“I think she could definitely play at a community college. Seattle U has shown some interest as has Highline and Green River.”

Frank does have a goal of playing basketball in college basketball, but still has some unfinished business in her final three games at TJ.

“I’m hungry to make the playoffs again and we’ll go from there,” she said. “We can’t afford any more losses.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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