Irena Korolenko has made an impact with her scoring touch and on the leadership front during her four years playing for the Cedar Park Christian basketball team.
Eagles head coach Brittani O’Malley said they’ll miss the 5-foot-11 senior wing next season and they’re thrilled that Korolenko will be pursuing her dreams on the court after receiving a scholarship to Seattle University.
Korolenko remembers being a little bit nervous during her freshman season, but that feeling resides way in the past. The two-time North Sound Conference most valuable player, who’s averaging 19 points and seven rebounds a game this season, offers this piece of advice to players making the jump to high-school ball:
“Don’t be scared, it takes a while to gain your confidence. Once you get that confidence, you just go for it every time and it works out,” she said.
Added O’Malley, whose team was 4-0 in league and 9-4 overall at press time: “Irena is a joy to coach. Although gifted athletically, Irena carries herself humbly, and has continued to get stronger and stronger each year. She is fearless, has an uncanny ability to score, shoots the 3 ball with perfection, and is so smooth with the basketball.”
Korolenko has followed in the footsteps of her mother, who played professional basketball in Russia. Irena began playing basketball in kindergarten and competed on the AAU club circuit with Bellevue’s Friends of Hoop from sixth until 11th grade.
“I like the competitiveness of it and I just like being with the team and having that bond with them,” she said.
Against Sultan last season, Korolenko poured in a career-high 32 points. She smiled when thinking back about that epic night.
“I think it was just I had no fear. I just drove to the basket every time, my shots were just going in. Everything worked out and we moved the ball a lot,” she said.
Last summer, Korolenko and her mom visited some California universities, but things didn’t fall into place with those schools during the recruiting process. Seattle University jumped into the action, reaching out to Korolenko, who impressed its coaches while playing for Friends of Hoop at a tournament. Seattle Pacific University was also interested in Korolenko.
“In the end, I really liked Seattle U and the team and the environment there,” she said.
Korolenko not only elevated her skills by playing in high-profile travel tournaments with Friends of Hoop in Illinois, Oregon, California and Nevada, she learned how to deal with the pressure that comes with the territory.
“All those tournaments are college-viewing tournaments,” she said, adding that a plethora of coaches are in the stands. “You just gotta learn to play your game and not worry about them, and get everyone on your team to be on the same page.”
Checking out the sites — like “The Bean” sculpture in Chicago — while exploring the cities with her teammates are some of her most cherished memories.
In the classroom at Cedar Park Christian — where she sports a 3.5 core grade-point average — Korolenko especially enjoys her current world events class. At Seattle University, she has her eye on either the pre-med, ultrasound or dental-hygiene programs.
The Reporter asked Korolenko a series of questions to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into her life:
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Be confident and just go 100 percent even if you don’t think it’s gonna work out. Just do it and see what happens, ‘cause you never know…
Do you have any kind of a routine before each game?
I just like to play hype music, pump myself up. Talk to my teammates (about) what we’re gonna do.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I think when people don’t communicate with me. On and off the court, when people just kind of assume.
What’s something unique about yourself that maybe someone wouldn’t know about?
I’m a good (snow) skier. I’m decent at art, I can water color.
What’s your dream vacation spot?
I really wanna go to the Maldives or Sri Lanka. One of those tropical islands that seems like a dream to me.
What super power would you like to have?
To pause time.
What’s your favorite kind of music?
I like my rap, that’s my main. I do some country.
If you could go to dinner with one person, who would that be?