Schimmel sisters savoring the spotlight

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 18, 2013

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(Louisville Athletics - Michelle Hutchins)

TOP: Louisville's Shoni Schimmel charges to the basket against Baylor's 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner during the women's National Collegiate Athletic Association's Sweet Sixteen game on March 31 in Oklahoma City. Louisville defeated Baylor, 82-81.

SECOND FROM TOP: Louisville's Jude (22) and Shoni Schimmel (22) celebrate after winning the Final Four game against California in New Orleans on April 7. Louisville won, 64-57.

W hen Jeremy Lin made his sudden rise from an NBA benchwarmer to the next "it" player, the term "Linsanity" was born.

His rise created a frenzy that hasn't recently been matched in the sporting world. Not only that, he helped changed the way people see Asian Americans.

There are some similarities to what the Schimmel sisters - Shoni and Jude - are doing for the Native American population, thanks to Louisville's improbable run to the women's National Collegiate Athletic Association championship game.

The sisters are enrolled members of the Umatilla tribe and also have Paiute, and Nez Perce ancestry.

"We've received a lot of positive feedback," Shoni Schimmel said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. "Everybody we've talked to has been very supportive. They are just as excited as we are because it's very unusual for a couple of Native American kids to make the Final Four."

Shoni, who averaged 14.2 points a game, said she was blessed to be part of a Louisville team that "shocked" the basketball world.

"We were the underdogs and nobody expected us to beat Baylor, nobody expected us to beat Tennessee," she said. "And nobody expected us to beat Purdue in the second round of the tournament.

"For us to beat all the odds and make it to the last game of the year is pretty incredible," she added. "What we did as a team says a lot about the University of Louisville. We took every game as a challenge because we wanted to prove everybody wrong and we shocked the world."

Jude, who came off the bench but got significant playing time, said making the finals was something she'll treasure for the rest of her life.

"It was a lot of the back of my mind I knew this was real special," she said. "Really it was an experience to remember especially for Shoni and me, because it's not very often you get to play Division I basketball with your sibling.

"I want to thank all of the Native Americans that have supported us along the way," she added.

Both players agreed that after the win over Purdue the team carried that momentum into the Baylor matchup.

"I don't think we were intimidated," Shoni said when asked if they felt overwhelmed playing the likes of Baylor center Brittany Griner, who left her mark on the women's game as the all-time shot blocker with 748.

"She's only human," she said of the 6-foot-8 post. "And granted she was the tallest player I every played against, I felt that in my mind she was a normal person ... she didn't bring anything new to the table that we hadn't seen before."

In that game, the Cardinals led 39-29 at the break and increased that margin to as much as 19 points in the second half before holding off the defending champs by a 82-81 count on March 31.

Shoni led the team with 22 points including 5-of-8 from long range.

In the regional semifinals, the Cardinals took out traditional powerhouse Tennessee and after the game the two sisters met Oklahoma Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

"He was there after we beat Baylor and he came back after the Tennessee game," Shoni said. "Just seeing him there and a couple of his teammates was an experience."

The Louisville team continued its storied run by beating the University of California-Berkley, 64-57, in the semifinals with Shoni scoring 10 points while younger sister helped out with 9.

In the championship game, the Cardinals hit a wall and loss to Connecticut by a 93-60 count.

"Personally that was the biggest game we've every played in," Shoni said. "It was something new for all of us except for our fifth-year senior Monique (Reed) but you know we have a young group so we want to continue our goal and win the tournament next year."

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