Growing up in what she called an “underdog town and school,” Paige Winter never thought she would play Division I women’s basketball.
A prep standout at Rochester — and former two-time all-area hooper — Winter knew she could play basketball at the collegiate level, but didn’t know if a DI offer would ever arrive.
Just a few short years after graduating high school, Winter has signed with Division I Portland State University of the Big Sky after spending a year at NAIA William Jessup, and another at Centralia Community College.
“I didn’t think I would ever be here,” she said. “I’ve seen the caliber of players that have played at this level and I didn’t know if it was possible.”
Winter signed with William Jessup out of high school, looking to make a home in Rocklin, California and earning pretty substantial minutes in her freshman season. In her debut, she dropped 21 points with seven rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Though her numbers and minutes took a small hit as the season wore on, she wound up averaging 8.8 points and 3.6 boards per contest.
That first season took a toll on Winter, however. She said she was a “small fish in a big pond,” and despite a strong start, lost some confidence before deciding to return home to play for Centralia CC.
Leading a young squad under head coach Caleb Sells, Winter nearly doubled her scoring output for the Trailblazers, averaging 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
“It definitely built my confidence,” she said. “My teammates and coaches were all wonderful, it definitely helped build up that confidence to feel like I can compete again like I knew I could.”
Looking to move on for the third straight season, it wasn’t long before Winter got a chance offer. Her former assistant coach at Jessup, Megan Kritscher, got a new job as an assistant at Portland State. After some graduations and a thin position group at forward, Kritscher was impressed enough by Winter that she vouched for her to get an offer to play with the Vikings.
As soon as Winter got the offer, she knew she couldn’t say no.
“After playing at Centralia I was hungry for more,” Winter said. “This is my opportunity to prove it to myself and everyone. The second I was on campus, they were all so nice. It feels like home, it's a weight lifted off my shoulders, it's a relief to finally be done with the recruiting process.”
Though she didn’t get any Division I hoop offers immediately after high school, after two years developing and learning under different coaches, Winter finally ended up where she wanted. Though she wasn’t offered a starting spot, or even guaranteed playing time at PSU, Winter thinks her journey will help prepare her to prove herself again in a new setting.
“I definitely feel like I have a chip on my shoulder,” she said. “You have to work hard to get what you’re going to get. I’m going to have to work for everything. Going the route that I did, it added fuel to the fire.”
Heading into the 2022-23 season with sophomore eligibility, Winter is going to work to prove to her coaches that she can provide more than just depth at the forward spot, even at a relatively small six feet tall.
“I just want to get used to the style of play, bonding with the team and girls and getting used to that high level,” she said. “Eventually I want to show them that I can be on the court. They want me to come in and be the workhorse and push people around. I can do that. I can develop into other areas until I’m at that level.
“I definitely am working on my defense. Being able to defend at that level can take you really far. Being an undersized forward, I’m going to have to use quickness to my advantage and develop that and work my way around people.”