One more march through March
It’s the time of year when Cinderellas go to the Big Dance in sneakers, when lifelong dreams hang on a last-second shot at the buzzer, and filling out a bracket for the office pool is more pressing than filing your tax return.
The madness of March is unlike anything else in the American sporting landscape. It’s life-altering, dream-deflating, gut-wrenching, emotionally exhausting ” and that’s just during a regional first-round game.
It’s also not uniquely reserved for the bright lights of Division I basketball, as Woody Creek native Moss Schermerhorn knows.
In his final March as a college basketball player, Schermerhorn, a 6-foot-6 reserve forward at Division III Washington University in Saint Louis, Mo., shares the same dream as every senior hoopster around the country: to prolong the magic as long as possible.
“I’m cherishing the time I get to spend with my teammates,” said Schermerhorn, who excelled in the classroom and on the court at Aspen High School, traits that have served him well at Washington U. The midsized independent university has a stellar academic reputation and a tradition of men’s hoops excellence. Heading into a March 1 University Athletic Association championship game, the seventh-ranked Bears (19-5) had won or finished second in their conference for 19 of the past 23 years.
And while Schermerhorn, a marketing major, said he would love to pursue a career working abroad and has plans to travel after graduation this spring, his focus at the moment is admittedly narrow. After an improbable run to the Division III men’s Final Four in Salem, Va., last March, Schermerhorn and his Bears teammates share the singular goal of going back to win the title they failed to come home with last season.
It’s a commitment to excellence that doesn’t leave much time for anything outside of practice, classes and homework. Especially this month, when every game is a make-or-break final exam. After a demanding regular season, Schermerhorn believes the Bears are ready for whatever comes their direction.
“Our team is an amazing group of individuals who share a chemistry unlike any other team on which I’ve played,” Schermerhorn said. “[In the conference], we are used to having a target on our back, but last season’s finish has made us expect the same excellence this season, and we are doing all we can to realize it.”
Unlike last year, when the Bears made their run to the Final Four as an eighth seed, they won’t sneak up on anyone if they are to make it back to Salem. Before a 73-70 overtime loss to the University of Rochester on Feb. 1, Washington U was riding an 11-game win streak and was the country’s top-ranked Division III team.
Schermerhorn’s head coach Mark Edwards said his players have embraced the day-to-day challenge that comes from being a Final Four team a year ago, which includes getting the opposition’s best shot every game. The desire to get to Salem is arguably stronger than it was a year ago, when the Bears went on their Cinderella run.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s different between this year’s team and last year’s team,” said Edwards, now in his 27th season at Washington U. “We had a goal to win a national championship last year, and you can envision what it looks like, but until you’ve tasted [the Final Four], you don’t really know. This team has already been there, and after tasting it, they realize it’s better than they imagined.”
How Schermerhorn ended up in Saint Louis, after starring for the Skiers, isn’t hard to imagine. Schermerhorn’s father, George, played college basketball at Central Connecticut State and instilled the desire to play at the next level at an early age.
At tiny 3A Aspen High, Schermerhorn was a star on the court and a coach’s dream.
“He was the top player on our team his senior year,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said. “We’ve had a lot of good players come through the school in the last 10 years, and Moss was definitely one of them. He’s a really good person, a great student and very coachable. … One of those players who really wanted to learn, one of those people that was easy to work with and a joy to work with.”
When it comes to recruiting high-schoolers, Edwards said the No. 1 thing he looks for in a prospect is “fit.”
It’s not just about jumping ability or ball-handling skills, nor is it solely about grades or work ethic. It’s a combination of all those that make for an ideal Bears player, Edwards said, and it’s certainly a mold that Schermerhorn fit coming out of high school.
“Because of the academics being as tough as they are, you can’t just go out and recruit the best basketball players,” Edwards said. “You have to recruit kids that will fit academically and socially. I think the success of our program is predicated on that.”
Edwards makes a point of noting that the average ACT score on his team is a 32 and that the Bears’ grade point average as a group is 3.4. That commitment in the classroom carries over to the court, the coach said.
“I know that all coaches think their kids are special, but truthfully, these are really special kids,” Edwards said. “I think we bring in the type of kids who are success-oriented. They’re used to committing themselves to something and used to following through with it. Our job is to try to blend them together as a team.”
Edwards said Schermerhorn’s greatest strength as a player is understanding his role, and committing himself to doing what his coaches have asked of him.
It’s not the most glamorous job. A starter in high school who averaged double figures in scoring, Schermerhorn is now primarily a defensive specialist who comes off the bench for the Bears to provide rebounding and a defensive presence in the paint.
He plays just under 10 minutes a game and usually has a stat line that includes no shot attempts and a few rebounds.
“I couldn’t be happier with the role I play on this team,” Schermerhorn said. “Of course, everyone wants to be on the starting five, but I am very content in knowing what is expected of me when I am subbed in and not feeling any pressure to do things that are beyond my abilities. Coming off the bench allows me to focus on the strengths in my game and make sure I bring them 100 percent when I’m on the floor.”
“He really helps us defensively,” Edwards added. “Rebounding is something that is a major part of our program and the person he comes in for is someone who really gets after it defensively. [Moss] is a veteran, he’s experienced and he knows what’s expected of him and how the system works. That in itself is a tremendous contribution.”
Schermerhorn remains in contact with his high school coach, and was a guest speaker last summer at Ketchum’s Aspen Basketball Academy.
He has also kept up with the Aspen program this season through the Internet and phone calls with his dad, noting that he’s “thrilled” by the Skiers’ success.
“It’s awesome to know that basketball is still alive in a town with so many other distractions,” he said. “And it’s not just alive, it’s thriving.”
For the first time since Schermerhorn’s freshman year in high school, Aspen is the league champion ” a feat the Skiers accomplished after downing rival Roaring Fork twice during an unblemished 14-0 march through the 3A Western Slope during the regular season.
The Skiers are led by 6-foot-6 All-State senior forward Cory Parker, a talented prospect who hopes to play at the Division I level, and who reminds Ketchum of Schermerhorn.
“[Moss] played varsity as a sophomore,” Ketchum said. “He was a big kid who could shoot the 3 and handle the ball.”
As a senior himself, Schermerhorn has some advice for Parker and the other Aspen seniors as they head into the playoffs with dreams of a state championship.
“To cherish every second you’re on the court, and give ’em hell in the regional and state tourney,” Schermerhorn said. “Bring everything you have, and leave it all on the court.”
It’s the same philosophy Schermerhorn is embracing as the Bears head into the postseason. The senior from Woody Creek said he wants to do everything possible to keep playing, because when it’s over, it’s over.
“Playing college basketball has been the most challenging experience of my life,” Schermerhorn said. “Having to balance a demanding class schedule with an equally demanding basketball practice and travel schedule has proven very difficult, and I have learned a lot about self-discipline and hard work in the process. I feel confident that I will be able to handle whatever the world after college can throw at me.”
After starring at Basalt, Lauren Redfern took her game to Division II Fort Lewis in Durango where she’s currently a starter for the eighth-ranked Skyhawks.
It’s been a magical season for the Skyhawks and the 5-foot-10 Redfern, a forward who graduated from Basalt in 2004. With a record of 25-2 and an 18-1 mark in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Fort Lewis has already surpassed the school’s single-season victory mark.
An exercise science major, Redfern has been a starter in the Skyhawks’ front court since her freshman year. She finished third on the team in scoring last season, logging career bests for points (237), rebounds (96), assists (45) and steals (66).
At Basalt, Redfern guided the Longhorns to four 3A Western Slope titles and three district and regional championship appearances. She also earned selections to all-league teams in volleyball and basketball and was all-state track honoree.
Haley Ortmann, who starred in volleyball and soccer at Aspen High School, saw action in 25 of 27 matches this fall as a freshman outside hitter at Division III Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.
Ortmann led the Quakers in kills per game (2.70) and was second on the team in kills with 246. Ortmann also had 244 digs and 25 aces.
Ortmann recorded 10 or more kills in 11 matches and led the team in kills nine times. She had a personal-best 27 digs against Randolph College on Sept. 12.
The Quakers finished the season 7-20 overall and 1-9 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
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