Chieftain exhibits wild side of personality on court
Warning: Teams that play the Tonganoxie High girls basketball team should be on the lookout for a wild creature who tends to wear No. 4.
Off the court she's calm, but when she steps on the floor, she becomes a wild animal.
Most of the time, her name is Tracie Hileman. But on the hardwood, just call her Taz.
Hileman is a sophomore on this year's THS basketball squad. Her nickname is derived from the Tazmanian Devil, the Looney Tunes character that blitzes through the meadow with reckless abandonment like a tornado.
On the basketball court, Hileman said she has a noticeable persona.
"A little reckless and wild," Hileman said.
"A little?" said THS coach Randy Kraft, sitting nearby during Hileman's interview.
After pondering the description, Kraft expanded on his quote.
"It's more of a controlled reckless and wild now," Kraft said with a smile.
How she plays
Because of her intensity, "Taz" might seem a tad daunting to opponents.
But Hileman said her looks are deceiving.
"People tell me 'you look so mad when you play,'" Hileman explained. "I'm really not. I don't get mad at the players or anything, I just get really into it I guess."
The nickname, Kraft said, really "fits her style of play pretty well." And, he said his sophomore never lets up on the hardwood.
"I think she can be a bit intimidating to some opponents because she plays so hard," Kraft said. "It doesn't hurt anything that she is so athletic and can pull off some pretty incredible moves some times."
Hileman has the ability to make plays offensively and defensively, but if she had her pick, she would choose to defend.
"Defense is my favorite because on offense there's just too many chances to embarrass yourself," Hileman said with a giggle." "I like defense a lot."
With Hileman's aggressiveness has come some ill-advised fouls in the past.
But with experience has come the patience to not foul here or make a unorthodox offensive play there.
"She's always had a lot of great qualities to play," Kraft said. "She plays so hard, she plays with such a passion.
"Those are great things to have."
And when it comes to Hileman's inner-Taz, Kraft said his staff has worked to harness it.
"What we've tried to do is control it somewhat, not take it away," Kraft said.
The nickname's origin
When Hileman officially was nicknamed "Taz" seems debatable.
Hileman said Marilyn Weller, mother of teammate Christy Weller, claims she has naming rights.
"Her mom thinks she started the whole thing in seventh or eighth grade, so I'll give her credit for it," Hileman said.
However, earlier this year, during a Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 telecast, sports anchor D.J. Whetter referred to her as the "Tazmanian Devil."
Apparently teammates were referring to her as Taz earlier in the season, but she found out during the telecast that she had the nickname.
"At first I thought it was Parker playing a trick, so I didn't know what to think," Hileman said, referring to athletics director Brandon Parker.
After Monday's substate game against Piper, Marilyn Weller set the record straight. She said that when Hileman was in junior high, Weller would comment to other parents in the stands that Hileman resembled the cartoon character.
"Well, you know how the Tazmanian Devil is quick and he twirls around and is everywhere?" Weller said.
That about sums up Hileman in Weller's words.
"She's been really fun to watch," Weller said.
No matter who started Taz-mania, it's caught on in Tonganoxie.
In fact, Hileman has a Tazmanian Devil stuffed doll. But she acquired the animal from an arcade game while on vacation in Florida a few years ago -- before the nickname stuck to her.
The doll is displayed in Hileman's room, which she said also has a certain Taz quality.
"If you'd see my room, it looks like a mess," she admitted.
Some might say Hileman's fashion sense also fits her personality.
Team members normally dress up on game days.
On one occasion, according to assistant coach Lindsey Graf, Hileman wore a black off-the-shoulder sweater with a teal tank top underneath, a faded blue jean skirt with black tights that went down to her knees. And to bring the wardrobe together, she had an oversized teal belt with flowers or butterflies, Graf said.
In addition, Hileman started a routine of styling Graf's hair before each game, a touch of superstition on the bench.
"We started and we had to keep going," Graf said. "We couldn't break tradition."
When it comes to Graf's hairstyle, Hileman usually styles it like her game -- unpredictable.
"I try to mix it up a little bit, keep people guessing a little bit," Hileman said.
All routines aside, the sophomore is eager to compete this week.
The Chieftains opened substate Monday with a win against Piper and could meet Sumner Academy in a rematch of last year's substate championship -- which ended in overtime -- in the finals. THS, though, will have to get past Bonner Springs (12-8) in the semifinals.
Tonganoxie, which now owns a 20-1 record, handled plenty of opponents during the regular season, but likely will have a tough task in repeating as substate champions.
"I'm really excited about it," Hileman said about substate. "And I think we could really do a lot of damage, but we just have to remember that we have to feed off each other and go with that."