High School Sports

Girls basketball: Connell, Schultz ready for regional playoffs

Michelle Schultz is not your typical post player.

The Connell senior is a self-described 5-foot-9 on a good day, but despite her lack of height she is averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds per game.

All of this for a team that went undefeated while winning the SCAC East regular season title, took the consolation title at the District 5 tournament and plays University Prep at 6 p.m. Friday at West Valley High in Yakima in the Class 1A regional playoffs.

“I don’t see it as an issue,” she said. “There are benefits if you are taller, especially in basketball. But if you want the ball and work for it, it will fall your way eventually.”

Schultz definitely has put in the hard work over the years.

She often got up at 5:30 a.m. last spring and this fall to lift weights. She works with assistant coach David Kleinbach on how to improve her post play. And she does it all with a smile on her face, telling jokes and keeping things light according to her coach Kameron Jenks.

“She knows how to use her body as far as underneath the basket,” Jenks said. “She is just so smart at what she does. For being undersized, she knows where to be to get a rebound. She moves well without the ball and she is quicker than most bigger girls. Her post moves are very good.”

Jenks has reason to gush about Schultz, who has steadily improved throughout her high school career and has the Eagles (20-4) on the brink of a familiar place — the state tournament.

“She is a big-time player in big-time situations,” he said. “She is a leader as well.”

Which is more than just being a player who averages a double-double.

“In that last game against La Salle, she fouled out, but even when she can’t get in the game she is up cheering the team on,” assistant coach David Kleinbach said. “She is like, ‘Come on guys, we can do this.’ Very positive, very good with her teammates, which is contagious.”

Kleinbach, who is the JV coach at Connell, has been working with Schultz on her post game and has been impressed with her ability.

“She is not tall, but she is very, very strong,” he said. “Someone that strong and that quick makes her a horrible matchup. You put someone taller on her and she goes around. If you go shorter, she shoots over the top.”

Schultz was a relative unknown at Connell her sophomore season, but quickly stepped into the limelight as a junior.

“Ever since it has been a steady climb, getting better and better,” Kleinbach said. “Her work ethic and her attitude stick out. She does exactly what she is told. I taught her a little jump hook last year, and she worked on it and now she can do it. She has coachability.”

Which has paid off for Schultz in not just basketball. She also plays volleyball for Connell, and plays on the softball team, which has won the last two Class 1A state titles.

“I think it just means anything is possible if you are willing to work for it,” she said.

The Eagles suffered a rare loss to Zillah in the semifinals of the District 5 tournament, but bounced back with victories against Granger and La Salle to earn a regional berth.

Now, they hope to get back to the state tournament for the ninth time in 11 years.

“The 1994 Connell girls team that won state, got third place at district just like we did,” Jenks said. “(This year’s team) regrouped and recovered and learned from that and bettered themselves. I think (the loss) makes them a little more hungry. Our play and our energy and our attitude has been a lot better from it I think.”