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01-06-04: Wheeler lighting it up in college


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 this season.”
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.”


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