Kristen Schoenherr thought her basketball playing days were behind her after graduating from Rainier High School. She had moved on — a decision made more difficult by the fact that she was a star hoopster at Rainier — and was looking forward to enjoying a simpler, mostly sneaker-free life 360 miles to the east at Washington State University.
Then, something unexpected happened.
"I realized," she said, "that I missed basketball."
No problem, Schoenherr decided. She would simply leave the comfortable confines of WSU in order to get back on the court. Initially, that decision took her to Centralia Community College in Centralia, Wash., about 350 miles west of Pullman. But soon, thanks to the mother of a former (and now current) teammate, she was traveling south on Interstate 5, heading toward an NAIA school that was in the market for a versatile, 5-foot-9 guard.
Now, less than a year after that spring visit, Schoenherr is one of the key players on a Southern Oregon University team that's making a late-season push for home-court advantage through one and possibly two rounds of the upcoming Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament.
Heading into a crucial weekend home stand against Northwest and Evergreen, the Raiders (19-6, 8-5), winners of three of their last four games, are tied with College of Idaho for fourth in the CCC standings with five league games to go, a half-game behind third-place Northwest (8-4 CCC) and one game behind second-place Oregon Tech (9-4 CCC).
SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy was tipped off about Schoenherr by the mother of freshman guard Demi Sahlinger, who played with Schoenherr one summer before leaving Napavine, Wash., for Ashland. Not long after absorbing the loss of star guard Melissa Sweat, who transferred to Cal State Baskersfiefld after leading SOU in scoring last season, Kennedy hit the road to see Schoenherr in person. He liked what he saw, which wasn't surprising considering that at Centralia, Schoenherr was named the MVP of the NWAACC West Region and Freshman of the Year after averaging 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds.
"I knew she had that guard mentality, and that she could shoot," he said. "She's just so athletic and so fast, I think it's hard for opponents to guard her."
That has proven to be the case at SOU, where Schoenherr, a sophomore, has already won two CCC player-of-the-week awards and ranks third in the conference in scoring (15.4 points per game), third in field-goal percent (53.5), third in steals (2.2) and ninth in assists (3.6).
"She's everything we though she was coming in and more," Kennedy said.
It didn't hurt SOU's chances that Schoenherr knew two players on the team before arriving in Ashland for an official visit — Sahlinger, and sophomore forward Carly Meister, another Washington state transplant who now is Schoenherr's roommate.
That, plus Schoenherr's instant connection with Kennedy, made the decision easy despite the fact that during her visit Schoenherr wasn't able to meet any of her future teammates, who were away on spring break.
"It was only a day, but I got to really bond (with Kennedy) and talk about a lot of things," said Schoenherr, who along with Meister is one of only two Raiders to start all 25 games this season. "The small-town atmosphere was nice. I loved downtown Ashland, thought it was super cute. I was used to (Washington State) and Centralia, and this was kind of in the middle, which I thought was really nice. "¦I committed right away.
"We talked for like two hours and it just really felt right. Financially it was right, and just who (Kennedy) is as a person, I could tell he was a man of good character."
Now, Schoenherr (pronounced shane-hair) and the Raiders will try to continue their recent surge through their final five regular-season games and into the postseason, which begins Feb. 25. The timing of SOU's rally from a 3-3 start to league play is convenient, but not coincidental. After spending most of the regular season hobbled by injuries, the Raiders are finally back to full strength. The long list of the walking wounded included former Ashland star Allison Gida, who Kennedy said continues to recover from a sprained knee.
Gida, who has missed four games and 11 starts, contributed 15 points and seven rebounds in the Raiders' 84-68 win at Northwest Christian on Saturday, a victory that capped a 2-0 road trip.
"Now that we're healthy, we can use our length," Kennedy said. "We're a little bit taller than (Northwest) is. If we create tempo and rebound the ball then we're a pretty good team. If not, we're an average team."