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Sterkel helping Briar Cliff basketball

Sterkel helping Briar Cliff basketball

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Gering graduate in her fifth year of college athletics

Emma Sterkel loves playing basketball, and the 2017 Gering High graduate is in her fifth year of playing collegiately in helping the Briar Cliff University women’s basketball team to a strong start in the early season.

Sterkel’s love for the game is obvious with the basketball background following in the footsteps of her mom and dad, Holly and Russell, both of whom played at Bridgeport and then at McCook Community College. Her mom played one year at McCook, while her dad played two years for the Indians.

Her basketball love is even leading her to want to coach basketball after her playing days are finished, following in the footsteps of her cousins, Sean Sterkel, Bridgeport boys’ basketball coach, and Destry Sterkel, who is a coach at Sacred Heart High School in North Dakota.

“My goal is to become a basketball coach, though I’m not sure what level I’ll end up coaching,” Emma Sterkel said. “My Bachelors of Science is in psychology, so I would also like to pursue a master’s in school or clinical counseling.”

COVID has definitely helped her achieve that goal. She is using that COVID year of eligibility to her advantage as she spent the first four years of her collegiate career playing at NCAA Division II Regis University and then is now using a fifth year of eligibility at Briar Cliff.

“It was clear my time at Regis had expired and deciding to play basketball here at Briar Cliff was an easy decision to make,” Sterkel said. “I never thought I would play a fifth year of college basketball, but COVID served as a blessing in disguise, and my coaches made me confident in my decision. I am so grateful to lace up my shoes each day and play the sport that I have fallen in love with over the past 18 years.”

So far, Sterkel is making the best of her decision to attend Briar Cliff. The team is 5-4 overall after the Chargers lost to Augustana University (SD) 77-64 on Nov. 27 and are 3-1 in GPAC play, having beat Dordt on Tuesday, Nov. 23, previously No. 9 Concordia University 74-68 and Mount Marty 68-45. The Chargers played No. 17 Northwestern on Dec. 1, losing 70-59.

“We have had a pretty solid start. We’re (undefeated) in conference play and Coach scheduled some tough pre-season games that have prepared us for what’s to come,” she said. “Our team plays fast and likes to pressure teams, so we have a lot of fun together. I think as we continue to build trust and chemistry, our season is only going to get better.”

Against Mount Marty, Sterkel played 18 minutes with three points and three steals. The three points were from a 3-pointer.

Against No. 9 Concordia, Sterkel played just five minutes, but had another 3-pointer.

In the win against Dordt, Sterkel had three points with a 3-pointer while also finishing with two rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Her best game as a Charger was a 10-point outing against Saint Xavier on Nov. 6.

“We were not able to pull out a win against Saint Xavier. All I wanted to do was win, so that game was a bit frustrating,” she said. “Saint X shot the ball very well, and we had a slow start that we didn’t recover from. Points mean nothing when the team doesn’t win.”

The big thing, though, is Sterkel has accepted her role on the team and that means a lot with a Briar Cliff team in which she found a new home.

“They’re awesome. The way the returners have responded to transfers and freshmen coming in is exactly what every team needs,” she said. “We have had to work hard at learning about one another, whether it be adjusting to each other’s playing styles or personalities  and I think we’ve done a great job being patient in that process.”

While Sterkel isn’t a starter, she has a role as a key player off the bench. In college, she said playing a role is vital.

“As a fifth year, I think my role is to bring consistent energy and to set the best possible example of what it means to be a positive, coachable player,” she said. “Aside from that, my role is to play to my strengths and make strong/confident reads offensively.”

Her strength on the team for the 5-4 Chargers is the ability to hit the threes. She did that at Regis and is doing it in her one season at Briar Cliff.

“I love long-range shooting. I’ve been working on my shooting form for as long as I can remember, but college has definitely given me the chance to improve my shot,” she said. “The pace of collegiate basketball is much faster, so I’ve had to focus on footwork and balance a lot. Being a good shooter takes a lot of practice and muscle memory, so I never viewed summers as an off-season. There is always room for improvement.”

That was the key for Sterkel  that she accepted the difference of basketball from high school to college. She definitely realizes that college basketball is totally different from the prep scene.

“Playing college basketball for the past five years has been formative and life-changing,” she said. “The number of relationships I have built because of basketball are countless. Being a collegiate athlete has taught me so much about life (time management, people skills, how to overcome adversity). The student-athlete life has challenged me on many different levels and made me mentally and physically tough.”

There are things that she learned about college basketball that she didn’t know in high school. Those include "BLOB" and "SLOB."

“I learned that BLOB is an acronym for baseline out of bounds and SLOB is an acronym for sideline out of bounds, HAHA,” she said. “I have also learned to control what I can control (attitude, energy, effort).”

Basketball has been something that she has always played since she was 5 years old growing up in Gering. Sterkel said she joined Gering Up basketball when she was in the second grade and played with that group through sixth grade. She then played junior high basketball and for a traveling club team called the Panhandle Explosion, which was made up of players from Scottsbluff, Gering, Mitchell and Morrill girls.

After that, Sterkel, her mom and dad moved to Loveland, Colorado, where she played for three years before moving back to Gering to play her senior year with her long-time teammates. In Colorado, she played three years of varsity and was awarded the Newcomer of the Year in Loveland.

When she moved back to play her senior year at Gering, Sterkel made an instant impact.

“Senior year was the highlight of high school for me because I got to go back and play with my best friends from home,” she said. “I broke the assist record that year, as well (12 in a single game). I received a scholarship to play at NCAA DII at Regis University for four years, and now I’m here at Briar Cliff (NAIA).”

At Regis, Sterkel is ranked 15th in 3-pointers made with 121 and had over 600 career points.

Regis, which is located in Denver and just a hop, skip, and a jump from her Colorado home, was a time that that she won’t forget.

“It was intense and competitive at Regis,” Sterkel said. “Expectations were high and the program was quite structured. I have so many fun memories (from on and off the court) that I’ll cherish forever.”

With just one year left to play college basketball, she is hoping to make her final year at Briar Cliff memorable. Her goal is to cut down some nets, win the GPAC and go to the national tournament.

So far, Briar Cliff is headed that way with their 3-1 conference start.

The hardest thing for her, though, is being away from home. But, she said being 23 years old is a lot easier being far from home than just out of high school.

“I think being 23 years old makes it a lot less difficult than what it would be at 18 years old,” she said. “I have never been this far away from home, so it has definitely been an adjustment. In the hard times, I rely on my faith.”

Sterkel has kept that faith in playing college basketball for five years just like many local athletes that transferred from a university after four years to play a fifth year. This includes Scottsbluff’s Dru Kuxhausen, who went from two years at WNCC, two at McNeese State to the University of Northern Colorado for his final year.

Sterkel’s advice to all the younger basketball players is to simply go out, achieve your goals and don’t let anyone tell you different.

“My advice is do not let anybody tell you that you can’t achieve something,” she said. “If you want something bad enough, you will do everything that it takes to achieve your goal. Be graceful with yourself because progress does not happen without mistakes and failure. Lastly, fall in love with the little things like footwork and ball handling.”

Sterkel is appreciative of everyone that helped her along the way.

“Thank you to every single person who has supported me in my athletic career,” she said.


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