People still ask.
Tonya Schnibbe surprised friends and fans alike by choosing to play Division I college women’s basketball – walking away from what most considered to be a more promising career playing major college soccer.
“I mean, it’s been, what, three years? They still ask,” the senior-to-be at Weber State University said. “It’s not like there’s anything I could do about it even if I did regret it – and I don’t.
“What I tell them is that this is the challenge that I wanted. This is what I wanted to do, and I have no regrets about my decision.”
It wasn’t so much that people doubted how good a basketball player Schnibbe was at University High. After all, she was a four-year letter winner for the Titans, twice named second-team All-Greater Spokane League, and the point guard for a team that placed third at the state Class 4A tournament.
The surprise stems from the fact that Schnibbe was so good as a soccer player. She was named GSL MVP and twice tabbed as a first-team All-State. It was just assumed that she would take her game to the next level.
“Soccer always came so easy for me,” she said. “With basketball, I enjoyed making plays for my teammates, making them better.”
For Schnibbe, choosing basketball was about fulfillment as an athlete, and she’s found it in Ogden, Utah, playing in every game as a freshman and starting every game as a sophomore and junior, setting records for assists in a single game (17) and season (194) last season. She was first named a team captain as a sophomore and her leadership has been crucial to the team’s success.
“I really believe our team goes where Tonya Schnibbe goes,” Weber State coach Carla Taylor told the Ogden newspaper last season. “Her leadership is crucial. We need her to be more vocal. She has been a fantastic leader by example, and she’s maturing into a vocal leader as well.”
Schnibbe has embraced her role, even though it calls for her to be more of an offensive threat.
“I know the coaches want me to shoot more,” she said. “I’m really working on that. I’m much more comfortable passing the ball than I am scoring myself, but I understand why I need to be more of a scorer. When you grow up playing with (former U-Hi teammate) Angie Bjorkland, you don’t need to worry too much about scoring.”
Just as she did at University, Schnibbe said she’s found friends and family in Utah.
“For as long as I can remember my friends have always been my teammates,” she said. “I sometimes wonder how I’m going to ever make friends when my playing days are over. I do know this, though: I am so happy with the friends I have made here – the family I’ve found here.
“I’ve learned a lot playing basketball here. Not just about basketball – I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about life. It’s been everything I wanted.”
Schnibbe is spending her summer in Ogden, working a summer internship as a physical therapist and attending summer classes.
“I’m working in the place where we go for our personal training for basketball,” she explained. “It’s kind of fun to look at it from a physical therapy angle. I want to go into physical training or occupational therapy.”
Meanwhile, she’s doing a little physical therapy of her own.
“I’ve got a bum shoulder that I’ve had for a while now,” she said. “Every year I do my stuff to make it feel better – I’m always aware of what I need to be doing to get ready. Every summer I make progress, but once I get into the season and all the hits you take and the time we spend in the gym, it just wears down again.”
It doesn’t help the wear-and-tear factor to play the game the way Schnibbe always has: full-out, full-speed and fearless.
It’s the only way she can hone her game, she said.
“Especially now that I’m playing college basketball, I have to use my speed,” she said. “That’s my game. When you rely on your speed the way I do, you have to practice full-speed because that’s the only way you’re going to know how the game feels and how to react in a given situation.”
The wear and tear of playing every game of every season accumulates, she said. It’s not that she’s indestructible. She just knows the difference between pain and injury.
“Our coaches tell us that all of our injuries are mental,” she said with a laugh.
“We’re Division I athletes, and we’re supposed to be able to play six months out of the year, but it does put a pounding on yourself.
“In high school and now in college, I always knew that my coaches wanted me out on the court. I wasn’t going to let a little dink or injury keep me from doing just that.”
Schnibbe is blunt about her goal for her final season at Weber State: she wants to win a championship.
“We have a very good team coming back this year,” she said. “We’re still young, but we have everyone back from last year. Our three most experienced players are all guards. We have a good shot at it this year.”