ANDREW JANSEN / JOURNAL Sadie Stipanovich, Westminster, in the Wildcats 54-45 loss to Kirkwood in the championship game of the Northwest Girls Basketball Tournament. Kayla Lundgren, 54 and Kalah Martin, 35, kirk.

Sadie Stipanovich doesn’t have butterflies in her belly before big games. She has pterodactyls flapping around in there. The junior center for the Westminster girls’ basketball team, Stipanovich gets so nervous her friends can see it on her face. “They’ll say, Look at Sadie—she looks like she’s going to throw up,” Stipanovich says with a laugh.

Not that those nerves, jitters or pterodactyls have prevented Stipanovich from doing some impressive work this winter. On the season, she’s averaging 15 points and almost nine rebounds per game. We should all be so productive while nauseated.

And while Stipanovich has been great, the Wildcats have been one of the best basketball teams in town. Last week, Westminster sewed up its second consecutive district championship at MICDS when it knocked off the host Rams, as Stipanovich scored a game-high 22 points. The Wildcats are 24-3 and battling through the Class 4 playoffs. Wednesday brought a sectional date with Jennings (another rematch from last year), and if all went well, there is a quarterfinal game slated for Saturday at Francis Howell Central against a team to be determined. And while Stipanovich says her nerves can be a bit wonky before a big game, they haven’t led her astray yet. “I think it helps me focus more,” the 6-foot-3, 17-year-old says. “The second we tip-off, it all goes away.”

And Westminster refuses to go away. The Wildcats have rattled off winning streaks of seven and six games and are in the midst of a nine-game streak.

It’s been an incredible season for Westminster, and Stipanovich in particular. A role player coming into last season, Stipanovich’s playing time spiked as she began to show more talent. She says it was more a matter of confidence than anything. “At the beginning of the season, I was the 10th man on the team,” she says.

Stipanovich’s passion for the game grew as she began to have more success. Primarily a volleyball player growing up, basketball has become her obsession. “I’ve grown to love the sport as I’ve become a better and more dedicated player,” she says.

She’s been around the sport her whole life. Her father and high school coach, Steve Stipanovich (maybe you’ve heard of him?), is one of the most celebrated prep players to ever lace up a pair of shoes in St. Louis. He went on to an impressive college career at Mizzou and was the No. 2 pick in the 1983 NBA draft.

Sadie’s cousin, Sydney Stipanovich, is the junior center for the St. Joe basketball team and is one of the more dominant defensive players in the region. With all these basketball genetics running around, does the family get together for some old fashioned two-on-two? “We play football every Thanksgiving,” Sadie says cheerily.

All kidding aside, she did say that basketball has brought her closer to her father. “It’s been so much fun. I get to wear the same number he did; it’s so cool,” she says. “I love that I’ve been able to bond with him in that way.”

The Wildcats have bonded together, too. Last year, they were not laden with expectations. Before they played a game this season, everyone was already talking about their district title game and an expected rematch with MICDS. Now that it’s come and gone, the Wildcats are still standing. Stipanovich hopes they can just stay focused on the task at hand. “I think we learned a lot from last year,” Stipanovich says. “We’re going to take it slow, one game at a time.”