Taylor Helbig had few illusions about college basketball. The former Holy Family star knew it would be step up. But entering her second year of play, she can firmly state the biggest challenges of being a student athlete have not come on the hardwood.
As a sophomore at the Colorado School of Mines Helbig's course load, not her RMAC competition, has provided the most of the adversity. One of the nation's top engineering schools is renowned for the its classroom standards, meaning that the aspiring petroleum engineer has spent more time cracking the books than she has sharpening her jump shot.
"By far the most challenging aspect has been the school work, it is a killer," she said. "Normally, you're studying 3 to 5 hours each night. But during test time it's more like 8 to 10 hours."
In between her calculus and physics classes and homework, Helbig has been able to squeeze in some basketball. And in her first full season starting, the point guard has begun to engineer an impressive career with the Orediggers.
Helbig is the team's third-leading scorer, averaging 11.2 points per game and she has not scored less than 11 points in her past seven outings. But the fleet-footed point guard had her share of demons to slay to become an irreplaceable cog in the Orediggers' winning design.
"I was pretty upset with myself in my early-season play," she said. "It was mainly on offense that I was having troubles. I was not making shots I should have."
Helbig believes much of her trouble was mental, pointing to confidence issues as she took over the reins of her new position. But she combated her early shakiness with a good dose of willpower.
"If I have any doubt in myself, I'm a complete headcase," she said. "But I told myself I was going to pull out of it. When I tell myself to do something I usually do it."
Helbig is playing a position she is very familiar with, having helped Holy Family to four straight Class 3A titles as its point guard. But to start her career at Mines she was pegged more as a shooting guard. It was graduation and a coaching change that brought her back to a position she believes she is a natural fit.
"When we lost (Stephanie Fogle) I started to talk about playing more point guard," Helbig said. "Then when (Brittany Simpson) took over as our new coach, she told me she had also been scouting me at the point."
Helbig has produced some powerful performances at her new position, including back-to-back 20-plus outings in wins Dec. 7-8 over Chadron State College and Black Hills State University. But from Helbig's perspective, it was her more pedestrian 18 points in her team's next outing Dec. 15 she most impressed herself.
"Our win against Colorado Christian was a real team effort," she said. "They're a rival, so it doesn't matter who's up or down in that game it's always tough."
Not everything has been high-end mathematics and hoops for Helbig. Like all the Tigers, she said she was sad to see the team state championship streak come to an end last season. But it also gave her some perspective on how blessed she has been as a basketball player.
"I have teammates (at Mines) that talk about how big it was for their high school team to make it to the quarterfinals," she said. "To have won a state championship each of my four years at Holy Family was awesome. It was something very special."
Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.