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Skyline’s Shlya Schmitz plays defense during this December 2017 game against James Wood High School in Front Royal. Schmitz’s defensive prowess has been key for the Hawks throughout her varsity career.

FRONT ROYAL — Shyla Schmitz loves playing defense.

The Skyline senior girls basketball player is a capable scorer, but it’s her defense that gives her the most pride. She also enjoys the challenge of trying to slow down the other team’s top scorer, even if it’s William Monroe’s Sam Brunelle, one of the top-ranked seniors in the country.

“I loved it,” Schmitz said of defending against Brunelle the last two years. “I thought it was a fun experience, especially since she’s such a humble player. It was cool to play against someone that has real talent.”

Brunelle has signed a letter of intent to play at defending National Champion Notre Dame next year. Two years ago, the Hawks beat William Monroe and Skyline coach Jim Kenney said that it was Schmitz’s defense that led to the win.

“When we beat them two years ago, her sophomore year, it was because of her defending Sam,” Kenney said. “Now again we were running multiple people at Sam Brunelle, but she made the difference — she really did.”

The 5-foot-8 Schmitz said that she didn’t start playing basketball until later than most kids, but she was always around the game. Schmitz said that she was a team manager for a few years but didn’t try out for a team until her eighth-grade year.

It didn’t take long for Schmitz to show her abilities on the court and she made Skyline’s varsity team as a sophomore.

Schmitz said that she learned a lot that season, especially from teammate Nikea Whitemore, who was the team’s only senior.

“I loved playing with her, learning from her,” Schmitz said of Whitmore. “Nikea was one of our good players. She taught me a lot.”

Schmitz said last year was a tougher season for her without Whitmore. However, Schmitz had a solid season. She averaged 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. She shot 35.5 percent (49-for-138) from the field.

Schmitz said working on improving her offense is one of her goals. She said she wants to be more aggressive and Kenney agreed with that goal.

“That’s been something that we’ve been working on for a couple years now –just being more aggressive,” Kenney said. “It’s not in her nature. It’s just not in her nature to be aggressive. She’s just sort of very polite and nice and sometimes that’s great. That’s a good life skill, but on the basketball court, I want to see you get a little mean sometimes. Not to try to hurt anyone, but just to take advantage of the skill set that you have. And sometimes we have to push her to do that.”

Kenney said that her athleticism is a big part of what makes her successful on the court.

“She’s a great athlete,” he said. “What she’s meant to us the last three years on varsity has been huge. She is going to leave a huge gap to fill when she leaves this year, as all our seniors are. But I tell her night in and night out, and I don’t think she really believes me, but night in night out she is the best athlete on the floor most nights. Sometimes it doesn’t come out, but she truly is. When she gets it in her, man, she can really run, jump, shoot, defend.”

Schmitz also plays volleyball and was on the track and field team as a freshman and a sophomore.

Schmitz has a brother, Mason, on the varsity boys basketball team. She said the two are competitive and push each other to be better.

“Every game we have we try to see who scored more, who had more rebounds, more assists,” Shyla Schmitz said. “It’s always him. He’s really good.”

Two years ago the Hawks advanced to the Region 3B semifinals and played for a state berth. Last year the team struggled, but this season Skyline is off to a solid start. The Hawks are 3-4, but all of their losses came to Class 4 schools.

Skyline will play in the Ram Hardwood Classic at Strasburg High School on Thursday. They will play Page County in the semifinals.

Schmitz said she’s looking forward to the rest of the season and playing the Class 3 Northwestern District schools.

“Soon will be playing our district teams and I think we’re going to do great,” she said. “I can’t wait. I’m excited for it.”

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com