By LANCE MIHM
ST. MARYS — Ohio Dominican University junior Sarah Wheeler
might be aspiring to work in the law enforcement field one day.
For now, she’s making her presence known as a long-range
shooting threat for the rising National Association of Collegiate
Athletics (NAIA) Division II power.
Wheeler, who was a three-point threat for the St. Marys Roughriders
for two years as a varsity girls basketball team member, is
now draining buckets from behind the arc for the Panthers at
the Columbus-based University. The junior is studying criminal
justice with a minor in biology.
Wheeler shattered the school’s record for three pointers
in a season in the 2002-2003 campaign by hitting 110-of-259
while finishing just short of Ketra Bell’s national NAIA
Division II record of 121 for Bartlesville Wesleyan in 1994-1995.
Wheeler is making another run at the national record this year
as she already had connected on 29 three-pointers in the Panthers’
first 10 games. She also has scored 621 career points and is
a lock at becoming the school’s 13th 1,000-career point
scorer barring injury. She also set a school mark by hitting
10 three-pointers against Mount Vernon last season, only two
off the national record for treys in a single game.
All this, and Wheeler seemed almost oblivious to her performance
so far in her career.
“I didn’t even have any idea of how many I had until
the end of the year,” Wheeler said. “I don’t
look at stats too much because I think it’s bad luck.
When I think about them, I do worse.”
Wheeler’s excellence from behind the arc has drawn plenty
attention from foes. She has had plenty of hands in her face
from opposing defenders after her breakout season a year ago.
“It’s been more difficult this season,” Wheeler
said. “People are keying on me.”
The extra attention had its effect on the Panthers, as they
stumbled out of the gate at 3-5 after being ranked in the NAIA
Division II Top 25 to start the season. However, the team has
adjusted as it has reeled off three straight victories, including
a 100-60 pasting of 14th-ranked Taylor University. The attention
has opened the inside game, and Panther’ center Becky
Richter is averaging 19 points a game.
“It has helped the inside girls penetrate on my side,”
Wheeler said. “We have adjusted. We didn’t start
off that well, but we have a lot of talent. We returned five
starters from last year and we’re beginning to mesh together
Wheeler said the Panthers’ goal as a team is to make it
back to the ‘Sweet 16’ in the national tournament.
The Panthers made it there in the 2001-2002 season before suffering
a hard-fought loss to Hastings, the eventual national champion.
Last year’s 26-8 season ended on a down note with a first-round
loss in the tournament.
“We want to make it beyond the ‘Sweet 16,’”
Wheeler said. “A lot of girls on this team remember that
feeling. I think we have the ability to do it. We are definitely
better than when the season started.”
“She was a very good shooter and she has taken it a step
further,” said Bruce Brown, Wheeler’s high school
coach at St. Marys. “The thing I remember most is she
put a lot of time into the game. She practiced hard and developed
her game in the offseason.”
Wheeler said that the speed of the game is the biggest difference
she has noticed at the collegiate level.
“It’s a lot faster,” Wheeler said. “I
had to get used to that. But the Western Buckeye League was
rough. So I was used to the physical part. A lot of girls have
problems adjusting to that in college.”