November 15, 2011 in Sports

UI’s Overgaard writes own happy ending

Women’s college basketball notebook
By The Spokesman-Review
 

There are enough rags-to-riches stories in athletics to erase the national deficit, but few can match that of Ana Overgaard.

It’s not so much that the 5-foot-11 junior walk-on from Weiser, Idaho, received a scholarship from Vandals women’s basketball coach Jon Newlee this fall. What makes Overgaard’s story so compelling is the honesty with which she tells it, how she was able to focus so when she first got into a game, or scored, or got that scholarship, she could recount the moment.

Overgaard has an unfair advantage – she’s majoring in digital media with a minor in fine arts. With an idea of making documentaries, she has a keen eye for what’s going on around her.

“That would be weird, making a documentary about myself, but I’ve definitely thought about writing it into a script,” Overgaard said

It would have some good lines.

“I certainly didn’t win any big awards for basketball,” the former Weiser captain said of her high school career. “Actually, I came here with no intention of playing sports at all. I thought I would go for a year and transfer to a film school.

“I just wanted to join a sorority, honestly, and have fun.”

By second semester she was “frustrated by not being an athlete anymore.” She emailed the basketball program just so she could say she tried. As it turned out, the Vandals’ misfortune was her good fortune – she received an invitation to be a practice player for the injury-depleted team.

Thoughts of transferring disappeared.

“I just fell in love with it here, a lot more than I expected,” Overgaard said. “I made so many great friends. Initially, I didn’t want to come here. Everybody in my family did … now I don’t want to be any place else.”

Newlee, whose team gets a visit from Gonzaga on Thursday, invited her to return last season as a walk-on, which proved to be a dose of reality when combined with the demands of a hands-on major and the expectations of a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

“It was really, really hard,” Overgaard said. “I’m not going to lie, there were moments I wanted to quit. You get behind in school and you’re exhausted. The early mornings and long afternoons, the physical strain was way beyond what I expected, beyond anything I ever experienced.

“I was sick most of the time. You kind of have to suck it up and get through it. It was the hardest when I started traveling. You have to do one thing at a time, one day at a time.”

And it was worth it, even if she only played in seven games for a total of 9 minutes with just a pair of free throws to show for it.

“I never, ever, expected that I would know the team personally at all, let alone be on it and get to wear a uniform,” she said. “I really never believed I’d actually get in a game. To hear him call my name and go off the bench is one of the most surreal moments of my life. Going in, I really wasn’t thinking about basketball, I was thinking about the moment.

“Honestly, every time I went into a game I thought it would be the last time I was ever on the court. I never knew if I’d play the next game. I tried to live in that moment. Making those free throws was just amazing. It was against Boise State, too … our rivals, where I’m from, my family was there. It was probably the greatest moment in my life.”

Overgaard was still unsure of her status when Newlee asked her during a preseason practice to stop by his office between classes.

“I thought I was in trouble,” she said.

“I’ll tell you what, nobody has improved on our basketball team like Ana Overgaard,” Newlee said. “I didn’t give a scholarship to her just to give it to her. She earned it.

“She’s been out here a couple of years, working as hard or harder than any one on scholarship.”

“My dad laughed … my mom cried a little,” Overgaard said.

And things changed in a hurry.

“It’s a whole new ballgame now,” she said. “I’m nervous because I haven’t been in this position for so long. It feels more like high school. I had kind of forgotten what it’s like to be a basketball player, practicing to actually play.”

Overgaard, who scored her first basket in the Vandals’ season opener on Saturday, is living a life that’s hard to explain.

“Honestly, the only one who really understands it is me,” she said. “Even my own teammates, they’re all from big-city areas, they played year round. I’m from Weiser, I didn’t even have summer basketball. They don’t know what it’s like to be in a sorority.

“And, of course, unless you play a Division I sport you can’t imagine what it’s like. It’s challenging, but I guess it makes me stronger mentally.”

Tip-ins

Washington State plays at Wisconsin on Friday, the start of an 8,100-mile road trip. The Cougars follow with a game at South Dakota State on Sunday before going to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands for Thanksgiving. The Cougars’ home opener is Nov. 30 against Gonzaga. … Eastern Washington is home against San Diego on Thursday and Oregon State on Tuesday. … The Vandals go to Montana on Sunday.

Gonzaga is without reserve senior center Shannon Reader, who was suspended for the first three games for a violation of team rules. … Lake City’s Katie Baker had 11 points and a career-high 25 points, but Montana lost both games of the Maggie Dixon Classic in Chicago. The Sunday loss was to Saint Mary’s, which won on a putback by Carli Rosenthal, a freshman from Coeur d’Alene. In her first collegiate game, Rosenthal had 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, as the Gaels lost to No. 19 DePaul 96-68, the tournament host. … Nikki Nelson (Chewelah), who missed two full seasons with injuries, made her first start in New Mexico’s season opener. She’s in her fifth year but playing just her third season. … Clarkston grad Kellie McCann-Smith, a 5-9 guard, who played in 22 games as a freshman at Nebraska last season, has transferred to Washington, where Jeneva Anderson (Lewis and Clark) is a junior.

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