Freshman Schonrock gets defensive

Aaron Blake

In last Thursday’s game versus Wisconsin, Minnesota women’s basketball freshman point guard Shannon Schonrock was tripped up defensively, popped right back up as if she’d never been down and resumed the pesky defense which has become her trademark.

It must be why she wears knee pads.

“When I was younger I wore them because I was always on the floor,” Schonrock said. “It reflects that you work hard, get after things and you’re willing to put your body in jeopardy.”

Schonrock has been on the floor, in a different sense of the phrase, more and more for the 13th-ranked Gophers of late. With the defensive and leadership qualities coaches – especially Gophers coach Pam Borton – love, Schonrock has risen from a garbage-time to a crunch-time player Minnesota (23-4, 12-4 Big Ten) will need when it faces Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament tonight at 5 p.m. in Indianapolis.

Her offensive acme came on Sunday at Michigan, when she scored a career-high 12 points – all in the second half – to help her Gopher teammates to their seventh-consecutive Big Ten victory to close out the regular season.

But putting the ball in the basket isn’t required of her. Despite leading the state in scoring both her junior and senior years at Blue Earth Area High School, Schonrock has averaged just 4.1 points and 3.4 assists since becoming a starter.

Her true value comes as the Gophers’ only true point guard – the initiation point for the high-pressure defense that has held their last seven opponents below 63 points.

“It’s all about working hard and having a mindset of not letting this player get by me,” Schonrock said. “A lot of our defenses focus on help defense. But it all starts on the ball, and my role is guarding the point. It all starts from there.”

The Gophers can accredit their seven-game win streak to Schonrock’s knee-pads mentality.

Her first career start came at the onset of the streak, when Minnesota snapped its four-game road losing skid and began playing the type of defense it has thrived on during the past month.

“She’s been a key factor since moving into the starting lineup,” Borton said. “The intensity on this team is completely different than it was eight games ago.”

But her rise from first-year to fixture accompanied a senior’s fall from grace.

A starting lineup mainstay for the good portion of three years, Lindsay Lieser didn’t start and, by the end of the Gophers’ 59-56 win in Bloomington, didn’t even play.

A pattern of steadily reducing minutes has culminated into Lieser’s poorest season statistically, while Schonrock has taken over the minutes that would otherwise be hers.

“Yeah, you feel bad,” Schonrock said. “But everyone knows coaches do what needs to be done, and everyone is for the team anyway.”

Schonrock’s confidence has matured beyond her first-year eligibility and she’s gotten the defensive picture even faster than her more-experienced teammates.

And now Schonrock is helping to mold an offensive-minded team who tried to score its way to a title last season into one that will rely on its defense this March.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]