The basketball career of one of the most talented players in Wyoming women’s basketball history is coming to a premature end.
University of Wyoming head women’s basketball coach Joe Legerski announced Monday that the career of Kristen Scheffler of Lovell has come to an end because of back injuries leading to persistent and debilitating pain.
Scheffler will remain on scholarship to pursue her degree at UW in social sciences and graphic arts.
“Kristen has done everything possible to return to the court,” Legerski said in a press release issued Monday. “Unfortunately, her basketball career has been cut short. Her offensive talent is second to none and will be missed on the court.”
The 5-10 guard played in six games last season before pain from back surgery earlier that year forced her to the sideline for the remainder of the 2010-11 season. She was averaging 4.8 points and 1.5 rebounds per game after averaging 8.6 points and 2 boards per game in the first two years of her career at Wyoming.
After graduating from Lovell High School in 2008, Scheffler exploded onto the basketball scene at UW with a spectacular freshman season (2008-09) during which she started for the Cowgirls and averaged 32.3 minutes, 10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, hitting 70 three-pointers and shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc. She earned honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors.
During workouts in April of her freshman year, she hurt her back during workouts in the weight room at UW, her mother, Lori Scheffler, said. She was diagnosed that summer with having two bulging disks in her back.
In the fall of her sophomore year, 2009, she continued her training, with a few limitations, but was ready to play for the 2009-10 season, though she was in constant pain that radiated further and further down her left leg as the season progressed, affecting her jumping ability and, thus, her shot, as well as her ability to make sudden, quick moves on the court.
She received steroid injections in her back in October, November and February, and one more in March, just before the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. By then, Lori said, pain was radiating clear to her calf.
“On some days she felt good and could play, and on other days it was so painful,” Lori said.
Still, Scheffler or “Scheff,” as Legerski called her, had a solid season, playing in 33 games through the pain and averaging 19.4 minutes, 7.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. She hit 43 treys and shot 35 percent from beyond the arc.
UW doctors scheduled Scheffler for surgery following the season, and by then the bulging disks had ruptured, Lori said, with a third disk also bulging. Surgery was performed in May to clean up the disks and vertebrae, and she rehabbed throughout the summer and fall. She was also diagnosed with a condition where she didn’t have enough cushion between her disks, causing pain when she jumped from vertebrae “banging together,” Lori said.
Scheffler received another injection in November and started the season, but after six games and a road trip to California with the team, the decision was made by her family (Dave and Lori Scheffler) and the team to redshirt and attempt to heal fully. She sat out the rest of the season.
She continued rehabilitation, but as she attempted to work back into more strenuous workouts following the season and this summer, doctors said the only way to alleviate the pain would be to perform a procedure to deaden the nerves (a rhyzotomy), but Lori said the problem with that would be that Kristen would not know it if she were to become injured in a game or anywhere else.
“It masks the pain,” Lori said. “It was just not something she or her family was willing to risk. It was too big a chance. We want her to be healthy and happy.
“She said she had to gear up or psyche herself up just to go to the gym. Mentally, as well as physically, it’s just been tough on her.”
A decision was made this fall for Scheffler to seek a medical DQ status, which would allow her to keep her scholarship. That has been granted, “which is huge,” Lori said.
She said Coach Legerski called last week and told the family that the decision to end her career was Kristen’s to make but that he believed it was the right decision, telling the family, “That’s the decision I would have made.” He was very kind and understanding, Lori said.
Lori said Kristen could graduate in December of 2012 with a degree in graphic design, now freed to pursue time in the studio.
By David Peck