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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Jana Swanson rising to important role after 3 ACL injuries

One of Jana Swanson’s best qualities is that she’s been a viable backup for all-conference center Rachael Heittola. When Heittola needs a breather, Swanson is ready to contribute off the bench.

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Bemidji State freshman Jana Swanson (2) boxes out for a rebound in the second half of a win over Valley City State on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- Jana Swanson knows what life is like on the bench.

After three ACL surgeries and a redshirt year with the Bemidji State women’s basketball team, Swanson has done her fair share of waiting.

But now in her redshirt freshman season, she isn’t giving her coaches the option to keep her on the bench any longer.

“It’s awesome to see a kid who really earned our trust and appreciation by the way she works,” BSU head coach Chelsea DeVille said. “She’s already doing so much more than we thought she’d be able to pick up on that quick, especially without playing experience right away.”

Swanson has fully embraced her role, whether it’s big or small on a given night.

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“I’m obviously not a scorer, but that’s OK,” she laughed. “My role is definitely to go in, (commit) no turnovers and just clean the boards… set solid screens.”

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Bemidji State freshman Jana Swanson (2) shoots in the first half against Mayville State on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

One of Swanson’s best qualities is that she’s been a viable backup for all-conference center Rachael Heittola. When Heittola needs a breather, Swanson is ready to chip in off the bench.

“I just have to be ready to go and play big,” said Swanson, a 6-foot center. “I’m a small 5, so it makes it difficult sometimes. But going against Rachael every day in practice definitely helps, which is awesome.”

Swanson has been one of the first players off the bench for the Beavers (5-4, 3-2 NSIC) this season. She’s averaging 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds over almost 10 minutes a night. But perhaps even more than stats, her intangibles have shined.

“If we have to throw her in for 30 minutes, she’s going to go like heck,” DeVille said. “If we have to throw her in for 30 seconds so Rachael can get (a break), she’s OK with that, too. She doesn’t want to be taken out, but she obviously understands her role, too. That selflessness of hers is really impressive.”

In between injuries, Swanson set Cambridge-Isanti’s single-season school record for rebounds during her junior season. Fast forward a few years -- which featured a March 2021 surgery to clean up her meniscus -- and she’s learning to walk on the college hardwood for the first time.

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“It’s just good to be back out there on the court, doing what you love to do,” Swanson said. “I did a lot of waiting in my high school years, obviously, with having so many injuries. ... Just being able to play is good.”

Swanson and the Beavers are on the road for the final weekend series of the calendar year. Bemidji State faces U-Mary at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17, in Bismarck, N.D., and then Minot State at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, in Minot, N.D.

Every division game is important to BSU, but one player in particular has a distinct edge come game day.

“(Swanson) hates losing, and she has a lot of fight in her,” DeVille said. “It’s a lot of fun to see her find success playing behind one of the best posts in the league.”

And while Swanson is making the most of her on-court opportunities, she’s also learned to enjoy her time on the bench all the same.

“Who doesn’t want to be out on the court?” she said. “But either way, even if you’re on the bench because you’ve got your best five in there or if you’re on the court, I still have a lot of fun.”

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Bemidji State freshman Jana Swanson (2) shoots in the first half against Mayville State on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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