They once were Rangers, now they are Knights.
NOTL Rangers basketball alumni Beth DeBoer and Mackenzie Schroeder have been making a mark as first-year members of the Niagara College Knights women’s Basketball team.
The two were teammates and co-captains last year at Eden High School, and played together on the Rangers under-19 women’s team. Both were recruited by former Niagara head coach Michael Beccaria, just before current coach Chris Rao was brought in to take the helm.
Welland native Rao left his role as assistant coach with the Cape Breton University Capers men’s team to accept the Knights position. He also has extensive experience with Nova Scotia’s under-14, under-15, and under-17 boys provincial programs.
Both DeBoer and Schroeder impressed Rao from the start, when he gathered the women for some workouts in mid-August before the start of the school year.
“They play really hard, is the first thing,” says Rao. “They both defend well, they have a good sense of the game that’s developing, and that’s only going to get better.
“They have flashes as rookies where it’s really, really good, and they’re doing things right, like rebounding. Of course, they have flashes as rookies where they’re not, but we’re starting to see more good than bad, and that’s great.”
The pace of the college game is something Schroeder and DeBoer have had to adjust to early. Rao says it was evident that their skills were up to par, but adds, “the jump isn’t so much skills-based, but that you’re playing against older girls who are more physical and more athletic than anything you’ve seen before.”
Schroeder concurs. “It’s a lot quicker,” she says. “Everything is just more intense, like communicating, just knowing where you are, being more on top of it, compared to high school.”
Schroeder almost didn’t play club basketball last year. After the high school season was finished, she contemplated taking the year off to train. The St. Catharines native had played previously with the St. Catharines Rebels, then the Welland JUEL Prep teams, and, finally, in 2017, with the Niagara JUEL squad.
A visit to an Eden game by Rangers coach Bruce Caughill, though, convinced her to join DeBoer, who was returning to the Rangers for the 2018 Ontario Basketball Association season.
DeBoer was one of the players on the first NOTL girls team coached by Bruce and his wife, Jennifer, back in 2009. That squad experienced a lot of success on the provincial circuit, before many of the girls moved on to play elsewhere.
Schroeder says, “having the opportunity to play last year, and learn, and have good coaching, has really helped my game improve.”
Adds deBoer, “Bruce and Jenn really have a lot of passion for the sport, throughout the region. They put a lot of passion into everything they did, and they really took the time to know every girl, and they really cared about us as people, not just basketball players.”
When she was considering her basketball future last spring, DeBoer says the Caughills “always made sure we did what was best for us. There are different opportunities that are best for different people, and they just wanted to be sure I did what was right for me.”
And what was right for both DeBoer and Schroeder was pursuing both their education, and their basketball dreams, at Niagara College this year.
Schroeder is enrolled in the two-year Fitness and Health Promotion program at the college.
She plans to continue post-secondary studies after earning her diploma in that field. However, she’s not yet sure if that will include further studies at Niagara College, or a post-graduate program at Brock University. Either way, she plans to continue playing basketball at the post-secondary level.
Police Foundations is the program that caught the interest of DeBoer when it came time to choose her college path. Like Schroeder, she is looking to complete the two-year program, and plans to continue school and basketball beyond that timeline. She admits there was an adjustment period, during which she had to learn how to balance the demands of the team with those of her courses.
On the court, Schroeder, has earned a starting role as a power forward, while DeBoer’s role has been to come off the bench to provide dependable minutes (22.4 minutes per game).
It’s been a tough season for the Knights so far in the win-loss columns. Their record after eight games is 1 and 7. However, in that one win (79-76 over Redeemer College), DeBoer and Schroeder both put in their best performances of the year. Schroeder netted 13 points and added 9 rebounds, while DeBoer contributed 10 points, finding her shooting touch at the charity strip, going 5 for 9 in free throws.
Rao says of the former Rangers: “They’re getting more comfortable as time goes on. They’ve been working on their shots a bit, things are starting to fall for them, they’re feeling more confident, they’re getting to the rim. It’s just a confidence thing, it wasn’t anything they didn’t have the skills for coming in.”
Caughill, of course, is happy to see the two playing on the Knights. “That was always our goal,” he says, “to try and help the kids experience what Jenn and I experienced (playing post-secondary basketball), and we take significant pride in that.”