Stewartville freshman girls basketball player Jayci Rath a rising star

Dec. 31—ROCHESTER — Might the next big deal be residing in Stewartville?

Tigers freshman girls basketball player Jayci Rath has that look about her. Six-feet-one, long arms, smooth ball handler, tough rebounder, shoots inside and out, excellent and smart passer.

And yes, just a freshman, averaging 8.4 points (shooting 65% on 2-pointers, 50% on 3-pointers), 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on one of the top and deepest teams in Class AAA.

A 14-year-old budding star, and one who is already being contacted by Division I colleges. A member of the University of Montana women's basketball staff recently took in one of her games. And South Dakota State has been in contact.

Still, what Jayci Rath is not, is some freshman getting ahead of herself. Not even close.

"I don't think she knows how good she is yet," said Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig, whose 8-2 team easily won both of its games Thursday and Friday in the Rotary Holiday Classic at Mayo Civic Center. "When that knowledge meets the skill and potential she has, I think you're going to see something pretty incredible."

Rath's dad is Lucas Rath, a former Kingsland High School (2001 graduate) star who later played at Saint Mary's University in Winona for two years before enlisting in the Army.

It's easy to see where Jayci gets her size from. Lucas is a big man, at 6-foot-6, with plenty of strength.

It is also from Lucas — presently a Stewartville assistant girls basketball coach — who Jayci has learned so much about the game as well as inherited his basketball passion. It started when Jayci was an infant, with longtime coach Lucas planting her at basketball practices he was conducting, Jayci watching from her car seat. At about the age of 4 came ball-handling drills for Jayci to do, with steady trips to gymnasiums by the two of them coming shortly after.

Those basketball expeditions have only increased through the years.

"My dad and I get in the gym a lot together," said Jayci, who played for elite AAU team North Tartan this past spring and summer. "My dad is very supportive of me. If he feels like something in my game needs fixing, he is there for me. He's easy to work with. He listens to me and how I like to do stuff. He's not hard on me."

There are lots of one-on-one battles with these two.

Jayci appreciates that her dad doesn't go soft on her.

"He always plays hard against me, to make sure I get pushed," Jayci said.

Jayci isn't the only freshman getting big minutes on this stellar Stewartville team. Guard Audrey Shindelar and 6-foot center Ella Theobald are also key pieces.

But it is Jayci who seems to have the highest ceiling and is likely the most invested.

"I am practicing with my team pretty much every day during the season," said Jayci, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. "But when it is not the (winter) season, I also try to get in the gym every day. It's in the summer that I work my hardest."