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Chris Murphy, Published March 18 2014

Ada-Borup’s leading scorer Monica Vega is also the ‘defensive tone-setter’


It was third grade when Ada-Borup senior guard Monica Vega first stepped on a basketball court. She remembers her siblings saying she was too small to play.

The 5-foot-3 Vega is now in her fifth season playing varsity basketball for

Ada-Borup and is heading to the Minnesota Class 1A state basketball tournament for the third time. This year, she heads to the tournament as the leading scorer for the Cougars.

Her siblings came up a bit short on their assessment.

“I knew I wanted to play sports,” said Vega, who is averaging 11.6 points, 3.5 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.7 rebounds a game this season. “Watching my siblings play sports pushed me.”

The stereotypes run wild when describing a person of shorter stature in sports. Words like scrappy, hard-working and blue-collar are glued to them. It’s as if they can’t be described as simply talented or playing hard.

Vega was swiping at dribbles and diving for loose balls with Ada-Borup leading by 40 in the

sub-section championship game.

However one describes that, it’s something Ada-Borup will find hard to replace.

“She might not be very tall, but those are going to be some huge shoes to fill,” Ada-Borup coach Dave Smart said. “She’s always played with that tenacity you see on the floor. She’s our defensive tone-setter.”

It was her defense that got her the initial minutes, but everything else Vega had to work for to become a full-time starter.

“Offensively, I never knew if she would come around,” Smart said. “Defensively, there was never any doubt. For someone like that, there was always going to be minutes. She really put work in the offseason to develop an offensive game.”

Vega has 113 of Ada-Borup’s 463 steals for a Cougars team that averages nearly 16 steals a game and has held opponents to a 31.6 field-goal percentage. Vega said Smart is the reason she plays the way she does.

“He helped me gain a passion for the game and he taught me a work ethic and ever since then I was hooked,” Vega said. “He tells us to play our hardest every game and play like it’s your last game. I took that to heart.”

In between four years of varsity volleyball – three of which ended at the state tournament – two years of varsity track and field and another year of softball, Vega found time to work on her offensive game.

With an offense made of six players averaging over seven points a game, Vega’s 336 points – 11.6 a game – lead Ada-Borup. Last season, in the Cougars’ run to the state title game, Vega averaged 12 points, three steals, four rebounds and 2.33 assists, earning

all-tournament honors.

With an enrollment of 137, Vega understands the underdog status of Ada-Borup. It makes putting on the Cougars’ jersey at six state tournaments all that more special for her.

“Last year, not many people thought we were going to get there, but being there and being so close to a title, you really want it more,” Vega said. “It means a lot playing for a school that is small, but has a lot of accomplishments.”

There’s no doubt on Thursday, on the biggest stage, which Cougar will be defending Goodhue’s best player Mikayla Miller, who is averaging over 24 points a game.

“It’ll be (Vega),” Smart said.

Vega has a self-proclaimed obsession with the movie “The Lorax,” which is an adaptation of a Dr. Seuss tale. She claims to know every word.

In his children’s book “Horton Hears a Who!” Dr. Seuss wrote “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

So is an athlete, according to Vega.

“Height doesn’t really mean anything,” Vega said. “It’s how big you play.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548