SIOUX CITY, Iowa – When Don Frisch was growing up a long jump shot from the Tyson Events Center, it may not have surprised many that one day his daughter would be shining in the NAIA Women's Basketball National Tournament. But what is startling is the fact that she ultimately did so while starring for a college team nearly 700 miles from his Akron, Iowa home.
Life's journey brought Frisch back to his roots Monday and the performance of Saint Francis freshman forward Paige Frisch in the Cougars' 68-64 semifinal victory over Cardinal Stritich couldn't have been more pleasing to her father, or the mass of Frisch family members that filled one of the suites atop the Sioux City arena.
“Give Paige credit,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “She got us off to a great start.”
Frisch hadn't done much prior to Monday's game, but just seconds into the contest, she was burying 3-pointers, as she lifted the Cougars to a 13-point first half lead.
“I was pretty cold,” Fricsh said of the tournament. “I was like 'I'm going to switch it up.' I wore different socks and a different sports bra. I was changing everything up. I had to do something different out there.”
In the three previous games, Frisch had totaled just six points on two made shots, which included an 0 for 5 performance against Siena Heights (Mich.). However, Monday, she hit her first shot and never looked back.
She finished with five 3-pointers and 15 total points, which was the most that she had scored in over a month.
“The first one is always the biggest key,” Frisch explained. “After you get that, you're like ahhhh!”
Paige's father was serving in the military in Texas when he met and fell in love with Norwell High School graduate Angie Smith. The couple eventually settled down in Ossian and when their jump-shooting daughter elected to play for Saint Francis, which competes in the national tournament in this city with frequency (10 of the past 14 seasons), it seemed like an act of fate for the family.
The fact that Frisch was in position to shine in front of the cheer section of of aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces and nephews, however, may be the most surprising part of this story.
In early January, Frisch was inserted into the starting lineup when Saint Francis' leading scorer (Akyah Taylor) was declared ineligible, and despite her lack of experience, she responded immediately.
In her first career start, she drained five 3-pointers and finished with 16 points in a win over Grace.
“When we lost Akyah, Paige had quite a few games where teams were playing a zone and she made a lot of threes,” Andrews said.
Frisch would score in double figures four more times over the next two months and finished the season connecting on almost 39 percent of her long shots. But with a mere 5.4 scoring average, it had to have been a bit stunning to Cardinal Stritch that she was the one killing the Wolves early on.
“Paige and (center Kalah Baer) had 12 points each at one point in the first half,” Andrews said. “They were the ones carrying us offensively. The other girls were struggling, but they carried us all year, so it was nice to see Kalah and Paige step up for us and hit some big shots.”