With just a few seconds remaining to play and her team up two points, Joanna Grymek calmly stepped to the free-throw line.
Oregon State’s 6-foot-8 junior college transfer, who is just 3 for 11 from the line in games, drained both attempts to help her team wrap up a win during a drill in practice on Monday.
While it was only in practice, it was an example of how much more comfortable Grymek has become in her first season at the Division I level, and with her new teammates and system.
“It’s really neat to see the game slow down for her,” coach Scott Rueck said last week. “What was honestly a foreign language being spoken to her since she got here in June, now it just seems like everything is starting to click for her.
"She’s such a special athlete, a special person. She’s a fan favorite but she’s also a team favorite. Just watch our team celebrate with her when she’s having these breakthroughs."
Grymek averaged 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season at Seward County Community College, helping lead the team to the NJCCA quarterfinals.
Rueck said Grymek, who is averaging 6.9 points in 12.7 minutes per game, is not as hesitant and is anticipating much better on both ends of the floor. She has 18 blocks, second on the team behind senior Marie Gulich’s 32.
Grymek is second on the team in field goal percentage at 63.5 (33 for 52); Gulich leads at 66.3 (67 for 101).
“She’s just in a really good place,” Rueck said. “She’s learning to stay down instead of jump defensively. She’s just so much more disciplined there.”
Grymek has benefited from having Gulich (6-5) alongside in practice each day.
“Now she’s really competing well against Marie each day, when almost out of respect for Marie she would defer to her in practice (earlier in the season) and then we’d see a different Jo in games,” Rueck said. “Now it’s every day so she’s able to develop habits at a higher rate.”
Grymek and Gulich have been a pretty potent combination in the post for the No. 17 Beavers, who wrap up the nonconference portion of the schedule against UC Davis at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
They have helped the Beavers lead Division I in field goal percentage at 53.5, heading into this week’s action.
Their teammates have also adapted well to both players and are learning how and where to get each the ball to be successful.
“We’re learning what passes they are able to catch and what positions you have to put them in to be successful,” sophomore point guard Mikayla Pivec said. “I know I’m still learning. I can’t throw a bounce pass to Jo as much as I can to Marie. If I make a pass to Jo up high, I know she’s going to finish it. You can’t stop her on the X. Then Marie has more finesse to her game. You can get her in different spots.”
Rueck has tinkered with playing both at the same time, much like he did with Gulich her first two seasons with Ruth Hamblin. Having both in the lineup is a tough guard for the opposition.
“I love lots of height,” Rueck said. “That’s a lineup I think we can see more and more. Marie’s played tons of four; she’s played more four than five in her career here at Oregon State.
“Now with Jo’s development I think that’s just one more thing we can throw at people.”
That suits Gulich just fine.
“I love playing the four,” she said. “It gives me a little throwback to Ruth’s and my time, which was really cool. I hope that we can be on the floor more. I think she’s really good inside and my passing from the four to her is good.
“I’m enjoying and I hope she does too. And I hope Scott gives us more chances with that.”