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La Salle-Peru senior Jens Soderholm is the 2012-13 NewsTribune Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He averaged 21.8 points, 11 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2 steals per game as he led the Cavaliers to the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division championship. NewsTribune photo/Amanda Whitlock
Jens Soderholm was a NewsTribune All-Area first team pick as a junior last winter. This year, the 6-foot-5 La Salle-Peru senior swingman was a beast.
A dedicated offseason workout program — where he packed on around 15 pounds of bulk to his frame and upped his jumping ability — made Soderholm virtually unstoppable as he added a strong post presence to his already deadly perimeter game.
This season, the third-year varsity player averaged 21.8 points and 11 rebounds per game — up from 18 points and 5.1 rebounds as a junior — as he attacked opponents in the paint, off the baseline or from behind the arc, where he made 44 3-pointers this season.
The Cavalier Nation was not the only group who noticed Soderholm’s standout senior campaign.
He was unanimously named the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division MVP after leading L-P to an undefeated conference record and regular season league title, and earned honorable mention status on the Associated Press Class 3A All-State team.
For his play this season, Soderholm is the 2013 NewsTribune Player of the Year.
“Most of the time you get noticed from scoring points, and Jens has the ability to put the ball in the hole — both from inside and outside. That’s what made him a special player for us,” L-P coach Jim Cherveny said, adding that Soderholm’s increased mass this winter set the stage for his standout senior campaign.
“He has the capability to be very physical around the rim and use his size and strength to his advantage. And he did that this season. The offseason paid off for Jens as far as time put in in the fall and spring. He put in a lot of time in the gym during the season and off-season and I think it helped him elevate his game.”
Soderholm credited his increased size and strength with helping expand his game.
“It helped this year a lot. Guys would bounce off you instead of you bouncing off them,” said Soderholm, who knocked down 158-of-205 free throws (77.1 percent) after drawing contact this season, often on old-fashioned three-point plays.
Soderholm led the Cavaliers in scoring in 19 of the 26 games he played as he registered 566 points on 41.7 percent shooting from the floor, breaking the 1,000 career point barrier as he finished with 1,056 career tallies.
He put up a season-best 36 points against Rockford Boylan at the Pekin Holiday Tournament in late December and broke the 30-point barrier on four other occasions.
But Soderholm’s game wasn’t all scoring as his area-best 11 rebounds per game attest. He led L-P on the boards in 23 contests.
He also spread the ball around with a team-best 2.1 assists per game — up from 1.0 last year — and was a big factor on defense with team-high 2 steals per contest.
This year was the culmination of a lifetime of love for basketball.
“Ever since I was a kid my dad kind of helped me out with basketball and I loved playing the game. It’s probably just the fact that it’s fun for me,” said Jens of his father, Eric, who himself played at L-P before playing college hoops at Monmouth College. “We followed the Lakers a lot when I was a kid — Shaq and Kobe winning championships. Basketball was the main sport (in the Soderholm household).”
Soderholm gave the sport of golf a swing this fall — mostly to give his knees a rest from the pounding they receive from a year-round regimen of roundball — but there’s little doubt basketball is, was, and forever will be his favorite sport.
There’s just something magical in the moment.
“I think the best part of playing (basketball) is when you and the other team are playing a close game and trading baskets. Everybody’s fired up and you’ve got the crowd going. Just when the atmosphere is wild — that’s the best time. … It gets pretty pumped up,” Soderholm said.
Soderholm said he never set out to be a scorer.
“It just came. Working in the summer, putting hours in in the offseason. That’s just how it happened. It just progressively has gotten better. The more hours you put into it the better it’s going to get,” Soderholm said.
“I embraced the lead role on the team. If we’re going to lose, I’d rather have us lose with it my hands — take the blame. If we’re going to win, that’s great if I have the opportunity to do that too, but I’m able to take either the fall or the praise, I feel.”
While he has yet to nail down a final choice of schools, Soderholm will be spending many more hours working on his game at the college level.
“I’m leaning toward Augustana, but it’s probably between Augustana and Elmhurst right now,” Soderholm said of his future hoops endeavors.
Wherever he decides to call home for the next four years, Soderholm, who will major in pre-med and bio chemistry is looking forward to continuing his basketball career at the next level.
“It will be fun. I’ll be trying to get a conference championship in college — hopefully all four years — and a national championship would be nice,” he said.
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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