Schmidt crucial to 2000 runner-up RangersJune 4, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Sometimes it isn’t always the player who is front and center when a team needs a lift. There may be times when a reserve jumps in and provides that boost to carry the team past the finish line.
Sara (Rohleder) Schmidt was that person for Forest Park in the Class 2A basketball semistate championship on Feb. 26, 2000. The Rangers had some key personnel in front of Schmidt that season which led the sophomore to come off the bench. One person from the aforementioned personnel was Sara Van Winkle, who had 24 points earlier in the day against Seeger, but ran into foul trouble in the championship against Shenandoah.
That’s when Schmidt took over.
“The fouls started to come, the nerves started to come with it, but at the same time, Marty Niehaus was such a great coach, she had us prepared for that situation,” Schmidt said. “I remember when she told me when I was getting in the game, she said, ‘You know what you need to do. Just go out there and do it.’”
It, in this context, was Schmidt playing her game — keeping her head down, staying focused, making her shots and getting the ball to the outside shooter. Another key cog to her success would have to be free throws, which she wasn’t always the most prolific in, but on this night, she sure was.
Schmidt went 7 of 8 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, and she scored 16 points off the bench. Mix those 16 points in with a game-high 19 from Heather Kress and 10 more from Amanda Weyer, and those three helped Forest Park win its first semistate basketball championship on either the boys or girls side with a 67-56 win against the Raiders.
Schmidt couldn’t pinpoint what changed her good fortune at the foul line that night. Otherwise, she would’ve done it a lot sooner.
“I think that it was adrenaline, really,” she said. “It was such an intense, loud game. We had such a following. We had the semistate on the line, and I really do think it was adrenaline. I knew what I needed to do. Coach had coached me on that for the longest time. So, I’m very thankful everything fell into place when it needed to for that game.”
That set the scene for a showdown between the fifth-ranked Rangers and top-ranked and defending state champion Fort Wayne Bishop Luers at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Forest Park was seen as an underdog, but that was no deterrent.
“I remember practicing at the fieldhouse the night before and we were all just kind of in awe of how huge it was,” Schmidt said. “It was keeping our minds focused. Even though we’re in this big facility, we’re still playing the same game that we know how to play, and know how to play it very well and stay focused on that.”
The Knights sure seemed to live up to their billing early on, when they had the Rangers down, 36-21, with 3:15 to go in the opening half. But the game was far from over.
Schmidt recalls Niehaus telling the Rangers to get their jitters out, to get past playing in the state finals and just play their game. Schmidt herself called that day “a whole new level of nervousness.” She scored a bucket in the game. Kress posted 17, while Van Winkle had 19, as Forest Park made a rally for things, tying the game at 50 with 5:30 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Rangers were down late, 62-60, and had the ball with a chance to tie or win it all. Guard Amber Kunkler threw up a 3-pointer that bounced in and out of the rim. The horn sounded, giving the Knights the game and the championship.
“We thought we had that game,” Schmidt said. “To see that roll in and roll out, it was unreal. To see the replay multiple times, it was devastating.”
That’s the most recent time Forest Park has gotten that far in girls basketball. The Rangers have not won a regional championship on the girls side since then, and have done so only one other time in 1986. That was the second of four consecutive state championships the Knights would win, and the Rangers came the closest of anybody to knocking them off.
Their next season, 2000-01, looked awfully promising, having won another sectional championship with a 23-0 record, only for North Knox to eliminate second-ranked Forest Park in its first regional game.
Schmidt thought the Rangers felt good about themselves since they had eliminated North Knox in the regional the previous year, and had most of their players back from the state runner-up season. However, Forest Park shot 34 percent from the field — 9 percent from 3-point land. Van Winkle, who was playing through some ankle pain, scored eight points, and Schmidt equaled that.
Forest Park wouldn’t win another girls basketball sectional until 2005.
“It was just a lot of pressure and every little mistake was going to make a huge difference, and I think there was a couple there that we had, and it just outed us,” she said.
The success the Rangers had on the basketball court during this time coincided with a sectional dynasty they established on the volleyball court, and Schmidt played both sports, in addition to being a star thrower with three regional championships in shot put and two in discus during track season. The Rangers won five consecutive volleyball championships between 1999-2003.
She called it added pressure and motivation to win that sectional the next year as the defending champion.
Forest Park seemingly always found a way to win come sectional time. Schmidt and the Rangers met Class 2A No. 8 Southridge during the 2001 volleyball sectional. They were considered the underdogs, but Forest Park pulled off the upset in the opening round to keep the string of championships alive.
It’s a game Schmidt remembers like it was yesterday.
“It was staying focused on the fundamentals – play the game, play it right and the wins should come,” Schmidt said.
The Rangers rolled to another sectional championship after a 2-1 win against Perry Central in the title game. However, Forest Park has never won a regional championship in volleyball, in spite of eight sectional championships. Schmidt remembers playing some tough Brownstown Central teams, losing to the Braves in 1999 and 2001. The Rangers also could not get past Union County in the 2000 regional championship.
The 2002 graduate thought her junior season of 2000 was the best of the Forest Park volleyball teams she played on.
“We had hitters, we had servers, we had back row people and everybody just clicked,” she said. “There are a lot of the same people on the basketball team as there were on the volleyball team, and that rolled over from one sport to another — the work ethic, the desire to win, and I think that was probably the strongest.”
She realized how thankful she was to finish all of her seasons, especially her senior ones, given the COVID-19 pandemic turning everything upside down this year.
Schmidt went to Indiana University, studying management with a focus in human resources. She worked in HR, but will celebrate her 15th anniversary with Jasper Engines and Transmissions in December. She’s currently managing the production control department.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily in the field that I went to school for anymore,” Schmidt said. “However, it is used on a day-to-day basis. I think the interest in learning more about production is just the problem-solving aspect of it. It’s something different every day. It’s a different challenge. You’re in and out. You’re not in an office setting all day. You’re out and about with hands-on stuff as well.”
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