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For Roiko and Air Academy, success is in the 'sisu'
What looked like muddled gibberish defined Air Academy point guard Kellyn Roiko to the core.
That was the one-word text message that a confused Roiko read from her father an hour before the state cross country meet in Aurora.
“It said ‘Sisu,’ and I was like ‘what is this?’ -- You know, because dads are always really bad at texting,” Roiko laughed.
The senior quickly called her father, who was stuck in a line of cars miles away, and he reminded her of the meaning of the Finnish word, one that her grandfather had taught her when she was young.
Will of strength, perseverance and those who have the most guts.
“So (my dad) told me to write ‘Sisu’ on my hand. So I did.”
Later, with about 400 meters left in her high school cross country career, Roiko found herself in 11th place with a “killer hill” just steps away.
“I remember looking down at my hand and I was like ‘this is my last race,'” she said. “So I just went for it.”
She passed four competitors and finished seventh.
Now, miles past her cross country season, her sisu hasn’t curdled. Roiko and the Air Academy girls’ basketball team are headed to the 4A semifinals.
The 5-foot-9 guard doesn’t illuminate the scoreboard, averaging just over four points per game, but what she does do is a whopping reason why Air Academy finds itself two wins away from the state title.
“She is our rock,” coach Bob Wingett said about his assists leader. “She plays such good defense, and has given up personal stats to make sure we win.
"Without her, we would be in trouble.”
After every game, each player on Air Academy gets plus-and-minus points.
Free throws, assists and rebounds are among the things that earn plus points. Failure to box out, missed free throws and turnovers result in minus points. And while most 4A players haven’t belonged in the same sentence this season as Brittany Hernandez, who is the Kadets' leader in plus-minus, Roiko is firmly No. 2.
The student with a 4.20 grade-point average is Air Academy's version of five-time world champion Los Angeles Laker Derek Fisher, said Wingett, a Lakers fan.
For instance, on Saturday against five-time high school champion Broomfield, Roiko had one of her top performances. She scored nine points, spread out four assists, had two steals, grabbed three rebounds and hit a 3-pointer in the first half that stopped a run of five-consecutive 3s for the Eagles.
“She kept us in striking distance in that first half,” said Wingett, whose Kadets ended up winning 64-46 despite being down as many as 12 in the first half.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, top-seeded Air Academy will face new-look Pueblo West, a team it beat by 11 earlier this season. This time the Cyclones will have more size (with the addition of 6-foot-1 Bailey Ford, a transfer from Centennial) and leadership (senior Destinie Jones was out with an ACL injury in the first meeting).
Pueblo West coach Mike Wilkinson says he can’t pinpoint a weakness in Air Academy. And with a team that has won 12 of 13 and has been beaten this season only by fellow semifinalists Air Academy and Pueblo South, Wilkinson's squad doesn't have many holes of its own.
So this game may come down to the little things -- the team that bounces back from a mini-slump and can slow the other team's runs.
In other words, the team that perseveres.
Yes, a trip to the finals may be all about displaying the most "sisu," and that's what Kellyn Roiko does as well as anyone.