BENTON CITY — Joe Wirtzberger always knew Bailey Schroeder had the talent to succeed at the varsity level.
The Kiona-Benton girls basketball coach just didn’t know if she had the drive to capitalize on that talent.
The first time she stepped onto the varsity basketball court as a freshman, she quickly erased any doubts Wirtzberger or anyone else might have had.“Her first game she had like 18 points, and I was like, ‘Huh,’ ” Wirtzberger said. “Her second game, she hit a game-winning half-court shot, and I was like, ‘OK. She’s going to be OK.’
“Then her third game, our starter forgot her shorts, so I wouldn’t let her play, and Bailey started instead. She had a triple-double and has started ever since.”
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Schroeder has filled many roles for the Bears, from point guard to defensive stopper to big-time scorer. She has been one of the winningest athletes the high school has ever seen.
This year is no different. The 5-foot-10 senior is averaging 20.6 points per game and has a very young Bears team off to a 5-2 start, including 2-0 in SCAC East play.
“She has grown a lot,” said Taylor Brown, who played for the Bears last season and graduated this spring. “She had to make changes in the way she plays, just because she has to be the leader this year. She has to set an example after we graduated everyone. She has really had to step up her game.”
Four years ago, her ability to step up didn’t seem likely.
In her own words, she was scared to play at the varsity level. Intimidated. But her lifelong desire to be the star of the Kiona-Benton basketball team helped push her forward.
“Ever since I was little, I came to watch that one player that everyone looks up to,” Schroeder said. “I always hoped it would be me, but I didn’t know that it would happen.
“I just try to be a good role model, and I just remember when I was in their shoes. So I try to be that person they can look up to.”
She has certainly provided a model of what athletic success looks like.
She is a four-year starter on the soccer and basketball teams, dominating both sports. She competes in pole vault and on relays for the track and field team, advancing to state each year.
She is coming up on 1,000 points in her basketball career, a worthy accomplishment for any high school athlete.
And through it all, she keeps her composure, never wanting to draw too much attention to herself.
“There are games we play, where someone who doesn’t play varsity very much gets in the game and scores, and she is jumping up and down on the bench,” Wirtzberger said. “That rubs off on the other players. She is the total package as a leader. The best leader we’ve had in my seven years here.”
She has been involved in leadership training since middle school and works on keeping the underclassmen positive. It’s easy to get down as a youngster on the varsity court, especially going against solid teams such as Connell and Columbia (Burbank).
“It’s a lot different this year,” Schroeder said. “Last year, everyone knew the routine. Everything is brand new this year, having to teach them all the plays and be patient with them.
“They get down on themselves a lot, and I have to help keep their heads up.”
Much like her basketball skills, it is a role she has developed over time for Kiona-Benton, but something that her former teammates knew she could do.
“She knows how to play, knows what needs to happen for her to be her best,” Brown said. “She knows what it takes to win a basketball game, and she’ll do anything to make sure it happens.”
It has happened a lot in her four years on varsity, and she’s hoping for one more playoff run this season.
“League champs is the big goal,” she said. “When we beat (Burbank) for the league championship (last year), it was just the best.”