Laura Berdahl pauses for a moment before answering a question -- but the basketball never stops.
Around the waist in one direction, then the other, a quick crossover dribble, back between the legs and then around the waist again -- even though the Nikiski senior is standing still, something is always moving.
"Laura played varsity as a freshman," Nikiski high school volleyball coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen said. "I was amazed at her natural athleticism and at her ability to move.
"She's always been a hard worker. She has so much natural talent, but she never got snotty about it. She'd absolutely crush a ball -- then look at me like, 'Was that OK that I did that?' She's a gifted athlete with humility."
Four years of hard work and countless hours in the gym later, Berdahl has parlayed that natural athleticism into two state volleyball titles, one state basketball championship and a good shot at another this season with the Bulldogs.
"The most exciting thing is that Laura's best basketball has yet to be played," Nikiski girls basketball coach Ward Romans said. "I'm excited about the way she's playing. ... I'm excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds."
This season has unfolded for Berdahl almost as if Romans scripted it himself this year. Through Saturday, the Bulldogs are 11-2 overall and 5-0 in District 3/3A play. Berdahl is averaging 11.8 points per game for Nikiski and shooting an impressive 74 percent from the free-throw line -- including an impressive 15-of-16 effort Jan. 27 in a district game against Houston.
According to Romans, the 5-0 and 11-2 are much more important to Berdahl than the 11.8 and the 74 percent.
"She's so unselfish. You never see her checking the score sheet. She's never asked me points she scored," Romans said. "Her measuring stick for how well she's played is whether we win or lose."
If that sounds like a slogan one would see on the back of a T-shirt, it is. A Nikiski basketball shirt Romans wore to practice last week had a definition of devotion on the back: A giving up of one's self to achieve the ultimate goal.
Using that as a guide, Berdahl has had as successful a high school career as any athlete could ask for. She began playing basketball as soon as she was old enough to participate in the Boys and Girls Club and the Nikiski Youth Basketball programs, following in the footsteps of older sisters Annie, Tammy and Sarah.
"We play during the summers a lot," Berdahl said. "I learned a lot from my sisters. They were post players too, so it was good to play against them."
"There's always that sibling -- rivalry isn't the right word for it, but competition," Romans said. "When they get together, they go out and push each other. They laid the groundwork of striving for excellence, and Laura is following it through."
Berdahl started playing volleyball when she got to middle school, and she said that between basketball and volleyball, she'd have trouble picking a favorite.
"I'm going to college next year, and I want to play either basketball or volleyball, but I don't know which one yet," Berdahl said.
Any college would be happy to accept Berdahl simply on her academic merits. Berdahl carries a 3.5 grade point average at Nikiski. She's enrolled in challenging courses like advanced placement English, and she says one of her most enjoyable classes is weight training.
"She's a stud," Nikiski physical education teacher Steve Gillaspie said again and again.
Berdahl said she wasn't sure what path she would follow in college.
"I'm going to take all the basic courses and see what I'm interested in," Berdahl said.
Berdahl is considering playing another season of club volleyball this summer. Last year, she played with Anchorage's Midnight Sun club team and traveled to Sacramento, Calif., for a national tournament.
"It was my first time ever doing something like that," Berdahl said. "I was amazed at all the people and the caliber of play."
Though Berdahl doesn't consider herself a gym rat, she's quite often found somewhere in the vicinity of a basketball hoops or a volleyball net.
"I come play during open gyms in the summer, or I go to the rec center to play," Berdahl said. "I like doing other things too, but I really love basketball and volleyball, so I'm (in the gym) quite a bit."
In the meantime, the Bulldogs are playing some fairly advanced basketball. As the only senior on the Nikiski roster, Berdahl has assumed a leadership role, but she says she doesn't feel any extra pressure.
"Not the way our team comes together, and Sally (Glaze, Nikiski's point guard) really helps out with the leadership role," Berdahl said.
"She's our only senior, and she leads in the best possible way," Romans said. "She works really hard every day.
"Being the only senior is tough. There can be a lot of pressure, but she's got a great surrounding group of players. This team has some great chemistry, and a big part of that is Laura."
In fact, Berdahl seems to save her best for the most intense situations.
"When things looked bleak in that fifth game, she refused to give up," Hobart-Verkuilen said, referring to Nikiski's dramatic five-game victory in the state volleyball final. "Every major play, she was there to make it. One of the bright spots in my career was having an athlete like that. I've always valued that she believed in me and in the program."
Romans also noted that nothing seems to faze Berdahl.
"Every team we play has designed a defense to stop her," Romans said. "There's times I know she's frustrated, but it's never affected her effort."
"I think we do have a lot of potential," Berdahl said. "This team is really deep. You can depend on other people. It's fun to play with the other people on this team."
Berdahl and her teammates still have their eyes on the ultimate goal -- another state championship.
"I think that's our goal, to win another state championship," Berdahl said. "We just build up to it through the season. We come in every day and work hard.
"We're all good friends, We hang out together. We have so many common interests, we just get along. It's easier to play with people you get along with."
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