By Eric Rosane
For The Chronicle
Wednesday, Feb. 5, was a perfect night for the Rainier girls basketball team.
The bleachers were packed for the final home game of the regular season, which also coincided with the festivities of senior night.
Most notably, sophomore Kaeley Schultz scored her 1,000th career point — a major feat that was celebrated by family, fans and students.
It came like any other first-quarter drive for Schultz, the 5-foot-10 forward who is leading the Mountaineers in a successful campaign they hope will end with a second consecutive trip to state.
The Rainier sophomore edged closer into Winlock Cardinals’ territory. Sophomore guards Brie Klein and Selena Niemi diverted the defense, allowing Schultz a lane.
Two Cardinals approached her, but it was too late — hook, line and sinker. With an effortless jumper and a flick of the wrist, Schultz arched the ball into the net without even a ding from the rim.
That was the moment she went from 998 to her 1,000th career point.
“If you kind of think about it, it’s the perfect timing,” Schutlz said after the 77-20 rout. “Honestly, I couldn’t have planned it out any better.”
The Cardinals, 7-13 overall, didn’t stand a chance. The Mountaineers outscored them 21-7 in first quarter. In the final quarter, Rainier shut out Winlock 24-0.
Schultz came into her 44th game with the Mountaineers seven points away from 1,000. She contributed an above-average 23 points toward the blowout win, and now stands at 1,016 career points.
With their game against the Cardinals in the books, the Mountaineers finished third in the highly-competitive Central 2B League with a league record of 8-2. The team’s sole pair of league losses came back-to-back from No. 1 Toledo and No. 4 Adna.
The Mountaineers clinched the No. 3 seed going into the 2B District tournament and are looking to repeat the impressive performance they had last season.
Last Sunday, teams were selected for the Central 2B girls all league teams. For a second consecutive year, Schutlz was named to the first team (senior Sophie Beadle was named to the second all league team and sophomore Faith Boesch was named to the third all-league team).
All season long, Schutlz has been a hot-handed threat on a young team of talented and passionate players. She’s stayed even or above 20 points per game, and many say it’s no surprise she’s found such resounding success in the sport she’s labeled as “her rock.”
“It just shows the kind of player she is — the athleticism combined with the work ethic. She’s not only one of my best athletes, but she’s one of my hardest workers on the court. The time that she has put in is reflective of the success she’s having right now,” said Rainier coach Brandon Eygabroad, who’s in his second year coaching the team. “I’m blessed to have this group and her especially because she is so gifted and makes it look easy out there. At the same time, she’s one of my best cheerleaders on the bench.”
Eygabroad said despite her success, she’s still young and trying to master some elements of the game.
While most players make strides learning the basics their first year or two coming onto a varsity squad, Eygabroad said he believes her biggest improvements have come with her knowledge of the game.
“It’s going to be a fun two years ahead of us,” he said.
Schultz came on the varsity squad last year and helped to establish one of the best shows of freshmen talent the Rainier Mountaineers have ever had.
Also a select team player, Schutlz’s love for the sport was cemented in recreation leagues she used to play in back in elementary school. She began by playing in the Yelm youth league and started to develop a love of both the game and the teamwork that goes into the sport.
“Teamwork is essential to growing up and maturing in the world because you can’t just go on in the world with your head down, only focusing on what you need to do,” she told the Nisqually Valley News in an interview last season.
Primarily a left-handed shooter, Schultz developed a skillset for using both fairly equally throughout her youth.
“When I was younger, I would refuse to use my right hand,” she said. “My right hand basically should have just been tied behind my back. As I got older and began to develop, I began to incorporate my right hand more into the game, which helps me a lot more now.”
Tipoff at the Mountaineers’ first game at districts will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at W.F. West High School. They host the winner of South Bend and Napavine.
“Every game, you have to come out. It’s a battle,” Schutlz said. “But now, every time we step out on a court, every team knows each and every one of our girls. So we have to prepare for the other team to read our books.”
When asked about another 1,000 points, Schultz said the possibility of that happening wasn’t out of the picture.
“I’m hoping 2K will come up. If I can get it now, it’s definitely something that’s possible,” she said.