Gering's Trey Winkler has big following in his return home

Rainy River’s Trey Winkler, of Gering, drives against Eastern Wyoming College on Friday, Nov. 29 at Cougar Palace.

Trey Winkler had one of his best collegiate years as a member of the Rainy River Community College men’s basketball team.

Winkler averaged 13.3 points a game during his sophomore year at the Minnesota junior college.

More impressively, Winkler led the nation in free throw percentage at 91.9% (79-of-86).

Winkler’s free throw percentage led all of NJCAA in all three classes. Division II saw John Wood’s Aaron Shoot also make 91.9% of his free throws.

Winkler, who received All-Northern district honors and was a member of the all-state team, helped Rainy River to a 15-13 record and a trip to the state tournament.

“I’m grateful for the year I had to learn from coach (Bill) Engel and all the early and late days in the gym where he rebounded thousands of shots for me and gave me many great drills to work on,” he said.

His success on the hardwood led Winkler to sign to continue his playing closer to home, as he signed to play at Doane College for the next two years. The decision was one that pleased, not only his mom and dad to be closer to home, but also his grandma and grandpa.

“My grandma and grandpa and mom and dad also didn’t want me going far from home again,” he said. “I did sign the day I committed. It’s a blessing to still be playing at the next level. This will be my third school but everywhere I’ve been has played a big role on where I’m at today. I wouldn’t be the player and person I am without all I was blessed with at each school.”

The decision to attend Doane was an easy one when he made a visit on his way home during spring break.

“I chose Doane because everything just fell perfectly into place,” Winkler said. “Coach McKeithen reached out to me the week before I was coming home for spring break and I told him I’d be coming that way to watch state basketball. So, we set up a visit and a workout and I went down on Wednesday. I had a great visit, all the facilities are very nice from a really nice gym, weight room, and locker room. I had a great talk with coach McKeithen and coach Stryker after I had my work out. I said it all fit perfectly in place because it literally happened four days before schools everywhere were shutting down for an unknown period of time. And I got there for a visit and workout at the right time.”

The coronavirus shutdown has affected Winkler, too. He currently is back in Gering taking online schools with all his belongings still in Minnesota. He hopes to make a trip back to the junior college to retrieve his items.

“I was home for spring break when all this virus stuff hit so I’ve been home with all my stuff back in Minnesota and no way to get it,” Winkler said. “I was able to get my books back as we are now all online with school. But, eventually, I am hoping I can make a trip to get all my stuff.”

The one thing about Winkler and his Rainy River team was that they had their season finished before all the postponements hit. Still, Winkler said going through something like that, where your season is canceled before you get to play in a regional or national tournament would be difficult.

“Our season was done two weeks before all the virus stuff hit so we weren’t affected like other programs,” Winkler said. “That would be very tough to deal with for sure.”

His time at Rainy River saw their season come to an end against St. Cloud Technical in the first-round of the state tournament. St. Cloud went on to compete in the NJCAA Division III national tournament, which was completed the week when the NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA, and NBA all postponed their seasons.

Winkler finished the year scoring in double figures in 17 games. His season hit was a 28-point game against Gogebic Community College. He also scored in double figures in 12 straight games starting with the first game of December, or the first game after Winkler and his Rainy River team played at Cougar Palace over Thanksgiving.

Trey, who has four siblings, three of which are older than him in Paije, Breanna and Taylor, and a younger sister in Sydnee, feels for all the high school seniors and athletes that are seeing their spring sports season vanish, including Sydnee

“I can’t imagine the heartbreak and disappointment that many seniors in the panhandle are feeling,” he said. “It’s a very tough situation and losing out on many memories. I’d just say to them to keep their Faith and trust that better days are ahead. All I know is good will come from this, it’s the way God works.”

What the high school students are facing is about the same thing that Winkler is facing being away from college without his belongings. His plan is to be a math teacher and a coach, so he can give back to the students.

First, though, he has two years at Doane and he wants his hard work come to the forefront.

“My goals for Doane are to go and make a home and family my next two years,” he said. “I want to help change the program and give everything I got and let all my hard work show.”

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