Genetics took over when Jennifer Botterill had to make a decision between basketball and hockey.

Botterill was a promising hoops player while growing up in Manitoba and was invited to the national junior basketball team's selection camp in 1996.

But with a mother who was an Olympic speed skater, a father who was a professional hockey player and a brother who is a professional hockey player, it was natural Botterill would choose ice over hardwood.

"Maybe it's in my blood or my genes," said Botterill, a 21-year-old native of Winnipeg.

"When I was younger I wasn't sure I was going to play basketball or hockey in college. Definitely when hockey was said to be in the Olympics, I decided that was what I wanted to focus on."

Botterill, one of the Canadian program's stars of the present and future, was named the NCAA's top female hockey player on Saturday during the Frozen Four tournament.

Botterill had 41 goals and 36 assists in 28 games for Harvard this season.

She also set a U.S. college record by scoring points in 74 consecutive games.

"I definitely think this year I felt good on a more consistent level that I ever had before," said Botterill. "I felt like I was ready to play every game we competed in."

Her Harvard linemate and Canadian teammate, Tammy Shewchuk, was one of the other three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the NCAA's top player.

Shewchuk and Botterill have been linemates for three years.

"Every year her game becomes more complete," said Shewchuk. "This year she was the total package."

Botterill was the youngest player on the Canadian team that won a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Canadian coach Daniele Sauvageau says Botterill has yet to reach her full potential and also said Botterill will be one of the players expected to lead Canada not only next year in Salt Lake City, but also at the 2006 Olympics.

"One of her strengths is her vision," said Sauvageau. "She sees the players well.

"She's a great passer and a good skater."

Some would say she's a great skater.

Botterill has worked in the off-season with skating coach Derek Roy, who has helped NHLers such as Bill Muckalt and Brendan Morrison.

"Watching Jen skate is like an instructional video for power skating," said Shewchuk. "She's really perfected it and that's what makes her stand out."

Botterill is also cheerful and even-keeled.

Shewchuk admits she's the one to bounce off the walls while Botterill, who was captain for Harvard, is the calming influence.

"She gets emotional for some things, but on the ice, not so much," said Shewchuk. "She'll be quiet and then all of a sudden she'll come out with a one-liner."

Botterill's father, Cal, is a sports psychologist for high-performance amateur athletes as well as the NHL players, so a session with dad is only a phone call away.

"My dad, it's great because it's never anything formal, but I always have him there to talk to," said Botterill, a psychology student herself.

"Just this last weekend, the NCAAs, it was kind of emotional. There were ups and downs and disappointments in not winning it all, but still doing well.

"Having him there was very important to me. He makes you reflect in the right ways and makes you refocus on the things that are really important."

Her older brother Jason, a three-time world gold medallist with the Canadian junior team, is playing in the Calgary Flames system in Saint John, N.B.

Her mother, Doreen, competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics in speed skating.

"My whole family, I couldn't be more fortunate," she said. "Because they're so supportive, they make me kind of readjust my thinking and get things in perspective."

When a player retires from the Canadian women's program, that player's number is retired for two years before another player can take it.

Botterill has inherited the No. 17 that previously belonged to longtime national team player Stacy Wilson.

"She one of my biggest role models," said Botterill. "And I enjoy double digits."

Forward Hayley Wickenheiser is still day-to-day with a torn MCL in her right knee.

She plans to test it Wednesday or Thursday with some light skating.

By Donna Spencer