On your marks, set, Carnago…


Sports Editor

While sitting in the visitor’s locker room after a victory over Centenary, senior Jessica Pike recalls bursting out in laughter. No one cracked a joke; no one pulled a prank on anyone. But Pike was laughing — and she couldn’t stop.

The reason for Pike’s laughter was because she was suddenly caught off guard. Her teammate, Brittany Carnago, had just recorded a triple-double that included 14 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks.

“It’s almost unheard of,” Pike said. “I couldn’t stop laughing … Seeing that [she had] 11 blocks was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s like something you see in the NBA.'”

As surprising as the news was, Pike and the rest of the team were not surprised with Carnago’s talent.

“The thing is though, we know she can do that any given night,” Pike said.

Breaking out

Carnago’s triple-double is just one of the accomplishments in her remarkable transition from freshman bench player to sophomore sensation. The triple-double was the first in just over two years in the Summit League and she is currently in the top 10 in the country this season with 64 blocks.

As a freshman, she played 22 games and came off the bench in all but one game. She had 25 blocks in the season and averaged 4.5 points per game.

When asked about what helped her breakout this season, Carnago gives credit to her teammates.

“My teammates just give me the ball more,” Carnago said. “Playing together more over the summer helped a lot.”

Pike noticed a change in Carnago’s game right away.

“You just saw her confidence really go up from freshman to sophomore year,” Pike said. “She went down with a stress fracture [last season] really early on and pretty much missed the big chunk of the season. But this year you just saw that she was really confident in herself and that made us more confident.”

Being a 6-foot-3-inch center, Carnago gets described as a lot of things — even if they are nonhuman descriptions. Freshman teammate Sharise Calhoun calls her “daddy long legs” and head coach Beckie Francis thinks she “runs like a deer.”

To be more technical, her offense and defense have been a key factor in the team’s success this season.

“She’s definitely a presence in the paint,” Francis said. “She has elevated our defense to another level. Our guards get can very aggressive because they know they can rely on Brit because she’s there in the paint for them.”

Oh, happy day

Carnago came to Oakland after receiving other Division 1 scholarship offers after her standout career at St. Clair High School in St. Clair. Although she was all-state and nominated for the Michigan Miss Basketball award, Carnago realized that the level of dominance she was used to putting on her opponents was going to change.

“Coming into college level is definitely different than high school,” Carnago said. “It’s a quicker pace, bigger girls, post players that can shoot threes. It’s just a different game so I was kind of intimidated by it a little bit and I knew I had a lot of things to work on.”

Francis knew that Carnago was going to be a big gain for Oakland and was ecstatic when Carnago signed with the team.

“We were really excited,” Francis said. “You can put that in capital letters if you want. We knew that we were really intense in recruiting [against] some bigger conference schools.”

Carnago chose Oakland because she liked the idea of staying close to home and she felt like she could develop a good relationship with the team.

“I liked the girls and I liked the coaches,” Carnago said. “It’s a good area, I like the distance from my house to here.”

Although she didn’t get the playing time she hoped for in her freshman season, Carnago knew that she was going to have her shot.

“Coming here and not getting that many minutes was kind of frustrating,” Carnago said. “But I knew that I was playing behind some really talented players so I knew that it would just take patience and take time.”

The missing piece

Francis said that with the outside presence of Pike and junior Hanna Reising — along with the speed of senior April Kidd and Calhoun — Carnago has made Oakland into an all-around team.

“She is a big reason why we are successful,” Francis said. “No one will ever really know — and we don’t want to find out — what it’d be like to not have her … She is a really important piece of our puzzle. She gives us that inside presence that Oakland really hasn’t had.”

Calhoun sees Carnago as someone to count on when things aren’t going well for the other teammates.

“When you know that you have a 6’3″ post player that you can count on, just in case you get beat by a blocked shot, it helps us out so much,” Calhoun said. “Not only offensively but now defensively she gets the job done.”

Carnago also brings a silent leadership aspect to the team that her teammates have learned to respect.

“I’ve learned to become a better leader,” Carnago said. “I think every girl on our team is a leader in a different way and so I think I’ve learned to step up my leadership also.”

Calhoun is just one of the players to have learned something from Carnago’s presence on the court.

“I’ve learned so much from Brittany,” Calhoun said. “I’ve learned leadership doesn’t have to be vocal. Brittany is a leader by example and I think that is one quality that she exhibits on the court.”

Pike, who has long been considered the main leader of the team, said she has learned a few things from Carnago as well.

“I’ve learned that, regardless of who you are on a team, you need everyone,” Pike said. “Just by taking Brit out of a game, I know that we need her. Last year, even thought she wasn’t playing, we still needed Brit there with us.”

Although Carnago has made great strides and accomplished so much in the sport since she started playing in sixth grade, she doesn’t let her success go to her head.

“I kind of just go out there and play,” said Carnago of the extra attention she’s been getting. “It’s just something going on in the background. I just look forward to the next game that’s coming up.”

Francis said that as talented as Carnago is, she doesn’t take anything for granted.

“You know, some players could say ‘Well, you know I’m the only true center they have so I can take it easy,” Francis said. “But she works just as hard as everyone else and doesn’t take anything for granted and works for everything she gets.”

Besides her talent and intangibles that Carnago brings to the court, her humility and virtues as a person are reasons why Francis and the team enjoy having her.

“She’s a really good person,” Francis said. “I just love her as a friend and as a teammate to the others. She’s never about herself, she’s always concerned about other players and making sure everyone is happy. Whenever she has a high-scoring game, she’s always praising her teammates. I just love her attitude.”