What a difference a year can make. Last season Sydney Rahn was afraid to score and admittedly didn't really want the ball either. This season, the hard-working junior has become an impact player for the sixth-ranked Red Wing girls' basketball team.

Head coach Peter Johnson said he knew Rahn would become the player she is this season. Having coached her as an eighth grader and freshman, Johnson isn't surprised at all at what Rahn has done.

"She always works hard," Johnson said. "She was my best rebounder and best defender then, and she's carried it over (to this season)."

Over the summer, Rahn said she learned a lot from AAU. She was thrown into a role that she wasn't used to with the Wingers. She said while playing AAU, she gained the skills needed to step up with the Wingers graduating Lindsay Reps, Dani Deming and Hannah Rodgers.

"This summer playing AAU, I learned to push the ball. I learned that I can take it up myself. I don't need to pass it up to someone else," Rahn said.

Overall, Rahn reads the opposing team better now and is looking to score instead of getting rid of the ball. She finds open holes in a zone where she can muscle her way to the basket or cut inside and find Kyli Nelson from 3-point range or Abi Deming in the post.

The new-found offensive skills, paired with her strong defense has given the Wingers a boost. Beneficial to Rahn is she feels better than ever.

Last season, Rahn injured her knee in the final meeting against Austin in the regular season. She came back albeit limited toward the end of the season in time for the section matchup versus the Packers.

Even before the nagging injury, she said she didn't feel right. She would go up for a layup and feel unstable. Weight lifting solved the problem.

"Since I started weight lifting, I feel stronger. I don't feel shaky and I've gone soccer and basketball (this year) without any injuries," Rahn said.

It's paid off for her this season. Rahn is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 7.5 points. She's second on the team in rebounds with 131 (6.0 per game). She also leads the Wingers in assists with 89 (4.0 per game) and steals with 53 (2.4 per game).

It's in practice against the junior varsity team where she says her defensive skills have grown. Rahn guards others in practice who are instructed to "drive." She said that has been most beneficial to how she guards those in a game.

Johnson said that often times when the Wingers struggle a bit defensively, it's because Rahn is on the bench. Between Elle Thorson, who is usually assigned to the opposing point guard, Abi Deming, the team leader in rebounds, Rahn fills in for everything in between. Her movement laterally, ability to get in passing lanes and her rebounding, aids the Wingers tremendously.

"She does all the little things that really make us successful defensively," Johnson said. "She understands who the best players are. She understands where the help needs to come from and how to either get herself there or get somebody else to that spot."

"The constant of having them drive, I have to learn to read them, read the ball, read how they play in general, make sure I look at the scouting report," Rahn said. "I know I have to come ready to play because my mindset will definitely affect how I play. If I don't come ready, if I'm having a bad game, I have to make sure it doesn't affect how everyone else is playing."

In regards to the junior varsity team, Rahn complimented them for getting the varsity team ready and providing energy on the bench. One of those bench players is her sister Sophia Rahn. It's the first year both have played together on varsity.

Sydney said her sister knows her role and does it well.

"She's definitely the hype man," Sydney said of Sophia. "At home, she's bouncing off the walls. At practice, she's messing with all of her friends. She's super loud. She's crazy, but she brings it in a positive way."

Having Sophia on the bench watching her play gives Sydney an immense source of pride and at times, extra motivation.

"I want to be the big sister (she can) look up to," Sydney said. "She is a very positive person to have in my life."