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Wheatfield’s Elnicki puts in the work to garner playing time

It’s one thing to want more playing time. But it’s a different story when the chance at a bigger role is in front of you and you have to step up to the plate and make the most of the opportunity.

Melissa Elnicki is certainly making the most of her chance.

Now in her second season of varsity with the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons girls basketball team, Elnicki knows that her days of paying her dues are over. Time has come for her to play a bigger role and have a stronger voice on the floor.

“I just need to be one of the leaders on the team,” she said. “So I’ve been trying to do that more and just help out everywhere.”

Elnicki has indeed been helping everywhere. On Jan. 4, she pumped in 14 points as the Falcons cruised to a 74-40 win over Kenmore East.

Elnicki also collected eight huge points in a second quarter that saw the Falcons put the game out of reach. Five days later, she had another strong all-around dropping 10 points in a win over North Tonawanda.

While the offensive output has been nice, it’s Elnicki’s tough defensive style that has endeared her to the team.

Though not officially the Falcons’ lockdown defender, Elnicki has been key in the backcourt thanks to a tough, gritty approach.

Elnicki does the dirty work by getting rebounds, battling for loose balls and providing for her team all of the other little things that all too often go unnoticed.

“She’s been working hard in practice and I think she knows when to step up,” Falcons co-captain Rachel Pawlak said. “She knows how to contribute. Even in the little ways, like rebounding, getting steals. Everything really helps.”

Playing weak side defense, the 5-foot-7 Elnicki has more then held her own when opposing teams have tried to attack on her side.

“It’s been hard but I’ve been learning a lot this season and I’ve just been improving a lot,” Elnicki said.

Whether it’s making a timely steal or just directing traffic in the back court, Elnicki is making her presence known and helping Wheatfield be a serious contender for the NFL crown.

A starter as a freshman on junior varsity, one of the most challenging parts of making the leap to varsity for Elnicki was understanding how she fit into the scheme of things and why she was or wasn’t on the floor.

“She handled it very well because I think she recognized the people that were playing over her — Jessica Hastings and Kelsey Neilsen, already had two seasons of varsity under their belt,” Falcons coach Diane Fegatilli said. “But Melissa worked hard in practice against them and helped make them stronger.”

“I just had to work as hard as I could because I knew they were going to start above me,” Elnicki added. “But I got my playing time by working hard and doing what needs to be done.”

Being able to watch and go head-to-head in practice with Neilsen and Hastings has gone a long way in helping Elnicki improve every facet of her game.

Without question, the best lesson Hastings and Neilsen passed on to Elnicki was the foundation of a good work ethic and the reminder that if you want something you have to put in the effort to attain it.

“They always worked hard and that’s the main thing,” Elnicki said. “The hard work has helped me improve all over.”

Likely the most satisfying part of the year for Elnicki is knowing that the challenge to do more for her team was placed in front of her and she answered the call.

“It’s been hard but I’ve put in the hard work and I get the playing time back,” she said.

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