SYRACUSE — It’s been an uphill climb for Casey Schroeder to reach the next level.
After a standout junior basketball season, the Wawasee combo guard suffered a setback last spring when she tore the ACL in her right knee during an out-of-state tournament. That injury cost her not only the latter part of her AAU season but also a chance to play at the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s Top 100 Underclass Showcase in the summer and with it a chance to show her skills to college coaches around the region.
But through months of rehab and an at-times-frustrating senior season, Schroeder kept pushing through. On Thursday she signed on with Indiana University Kokomo women’s basketball.
“I was just happy to put pen to paper and find somewhere that I was happy with. I knew IUK was going to be a good place because back at Wawasee I always felt like I was pretty close with my coaches, and I really feel like I’m going to be the same way with my new coach now,” said Schroeder.
“I’m proud of her. The past eight or nine months has been a challenge for her, but she’s come through all these adverse times,” said Wawasee girls basketball coach Matt Carpenter. “She’s sometimes gotten the short end of the stick from people around her but never wavered. She had a goal. She pushed through it. She kept working hard.”
When Schroeder tore her ACL last April, her first thought was whether it might cost her the opportunity that she had worked so long for. Following surgery at the beginning of May and five months of rehab, she still wasn’t back to pre-injury form as the high school season began to get underway. Schroeder started to question whether she might be able to play at the next level at all.
“Right away when it happened, those were the first things that went through my head — oh, is college ball still going to be an option?” she recalled. “Honestly, until it happened, I didn’t realize how many college athletes had gone through the same thing and still got that opportunity. After reading about it I just realized that it’s not the end of a career, but it should be a reason to work harder and want to still get after it and reach your goals.”
Another setback came just five games into her final season with the Lady Warriors.
Schroeder tore the scar tissue in her still-healing knee and was sidelined in mid-November. Again, Schroeder doubted herself, but she continued to work and was back on the court just two games later at South Bend Adams, scoring a team-high 12 points in her return to the floor.
“I thought that that was the worst thing that ever could happen and that it was going to be a major setback, I was going to miss so many games. But it ended up being a good thing. I got super discouraged at the time, but I just realized that was part of the healing process,” said Schroeder. “That was when it really clicked that I’m not going to be better instantly. Everything is a process, and it’s only going to be with time that I get better.”
Schroeder went on to lead Wawasee in scoring with 11.4 points an outing in addition to two steals, three rebounds and 1.2 assists a night for the Warriors over 2018-19. Those stats came despite limited minutes and in spite of the physical limitations she was still battling through — she rates herself as only still feeling “about 80 percent” through the year. And although she lost some exposure because of her injuries, she got an assist from Carpenter, who continued to fight for his star senior through the recruiting process.
“I have never met somebody who has been more devoted to a player and wanting to see them succeed. Coach Carpenter has done the most and more for me, and I can’t thank him enough. He started my recruitment process, and when I tore my ACL it didn’t scare him at all. He kept reaching out to coaches. He never stopped. He kept encouraging me,” said Schroeder. “He did so much. I don’t think I can ever thank him for how much he’s done.”
“She was a top 100 underclass showcase player in Indiana, and that’s a big deal. That would’ve been a chance during the summer to be able to go play, and all of a sudden she tore her ACL and she didn’t even get a chance to go play in front of all those people. So she lost that chance. She lost the chance to continue her AAU season in the spring and play in front of college coaches,” recalled Carpenter. “So the girl faced a lot of adversity from a recruiting standpoint and just from a press standpoint and a recognition standpoint so it was an uphill battle. But we also knew that we had good film on her from her junior year, that she was going to come back and push hard to rehab and get herself ready to play, and I was going to do anything I could do to get ahold of as many coaches as I could to showcase her and say ‘Hey, this is a girl you should look at.’”
One of the coaches whose interest was piqued was IUK’s Colie Shelwick. The second-year Cougars boss was looking ahead to an overwhelmingly young roster for 2019-20 and needed a scorer — someone who could handle the ball and break down defenses but could also spot up and shoot the three. As it turned out, Schroeder — who buried 32 three-pointers at a 40-percent clip this past winter — fit the bill perfectly.
“Having a chance to talk to the IUK coach, I think she’s going to fit in her system really well. I’m happy that Casey picked a great fit for herself,” Carpenter said. “The coach wants a scorer. She wants somebody who is not afraid to shoot the ball. She also wants somebody who can put the ball on the floor and read defenses and score inside or be able to penetrate and kick, and Casey can do all that. She’s really going to utilize all her skills, and Casey is going to get a chance to work hard to compete to play. To be able to have that chance coming in as a freshman right away, especially coming off an injury, means it’s a good fit.”
Because the Cougars are losing so much talent from an 18-11 season that saw the team claim a share of the River States Conference West Division with a 13-5 conference record, Shelwick will need to reload quickly. Which means Schroeder could get some playing time early.
“They’re graduating all their seniors. They have no juniors, they have nine returning freshmen, and they’re bringing in a few of us as freshmen. I’m really going to have to work for a place that I want, but the coach says that I’ve got a good opportunity playing with them and that if I show I want it, it’s mine. It’s a new starting spot for everybody,” Schroeder said.
With her high school career now fully behind her and a future at IUK — where she plans to study business sports management — in place, Schroeder says she’s feeling stronger all the time. Still, she continues to work to be ready for the next level and is looking forward to the opportunity that, just a year ago, she was afraid she might have missed.
“I’m just happy to be with a whole roster of teammates who want to be there, who want to get better every day and want to succeed as a team, not just individually. It’s easier when everybody wants to be there and do good things. I’m just hoping I grow closer as a family with everybody, and it’s just a fun time,” she said.