Cal Poly’s Schlemer is taking advantage of her size

Often maligned at Righetti High for not doing more, the 6-foot-5 center is a big reason the Mustangs are Big West title contenders

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comFebruary 20, 2013 

Cal Poly center Molly Schlemer is averaging 11.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 54 percent from the field.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

When you are 6-foot-5, there are plenty of things that aren’t natural fits.

Airline seats. Amusement park rides. Mattresses.

Basketball, however, is supposed to come easy. That might be why Molly Schlemer didn’t bask in fanfare at Righetti High. She wasn’t “dominating as much as she should have been.”

In her senior season with the Warriors in 2009-10, she led the PAC 7 with 2.5 blocks per game. She ranked third in scoring with 14.8 points and fifth with 8.3 rebounds per game. And after signing with Cal Poly, Schlemer was the only PAC 7 player to receive a Division I women’s basketball scholarship.

Yet, when coaches selected all-league honors, it wasn’t good enough. Schlemer lost out on the MVP balloting to Atascadero’s Raven Taylor. 

That, at least, made sense. Taylor led the league in scoring and rebounding for the second-place team. Righetti was 6-6 in league. 

But Schlemer was also left off the all-PAC 7 first team. Clearly one of the league’s top five players statistically, Schlemer was a second-team honoree. 

“It was just proven to me I need to get out of here,” Schlemer said. “I need to do big things because obviously people here don’t really think I can. Thinking about that still raises the hair on the back of my neck.”

Lightly recruited with no other Big West Conference scholarship offers, detractors doubted whether she could contribute at the Division I level. 

Sure, Schlemer was tall. But she wasn’t wrapped into the same package of skill and athleticism of former Warriors and Mustangs teammate Kristina Santiago, a PAC 7 MVP and two-time Big West Player of the Year.

Saddled with sleights rather than praise, Schlemer turned it all into fuel for motivation, and now a junior center at Cal Poly, she is accomplishing feats her high school doubters never thought possible by concentrating on what she does well instead of being dragged down by her faults. 

She’s improved enough to be considered a viable conference player of the year candidate by Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh.

Schlemer just had to realizer her game is about taking advantage of her size, not manufacturing finesse. 

“She’s gotten a lot of confidence because we focus on what her strengths are instead of harping on what she can’t do,” Mimnaugh said. “Players go through programs where they’re just belittled or torn down. It’s hard for them to gain confidence. 

“We really try to say these are the things you do. And we’ll work on the weaknesses, but don’t forget you’ve got some strengths, too.” 

Schlemer’s strength is scoring in the post, and she’s converting at a rate that ranks her in the upper class of Division I.

Going into today’s 7 p.m. game against visiting Cal State Northridge (13-12, 7-6 Big West), Schlemer is tied for the team lead with 11.9 points per game after scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in Saturday’s victory over UC Santa Barbara, her 10th double-digit scoring game in the past 11.

After spending her first two collegiate years as a backup for Cal Poly (14-9, 9-3 Big West), Schlemer’s breakout season started with a 21-point, 12-rebound effort in a season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. In a triple-overtime victory against first-place Pacific in mid-January, she took her game to another level with a career-high 28 points and nine rebounds.

That effort came against 6-2 Tigers forward Kendall Kenyon, the Big West’s top rebounder and second-leading shot-blocker. 

“Knowing I scored that much on one of the conference’s top post players,” Schlemer said, “I was just like, ‘If she couldn’t stop me, who else can?’ I just had to have that mindset.”

Not many have stopped Schlemer since. In Big West play alone, Schlemer averages a team-best 14.8 points with 7.1 rebounds and is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. 

She’s only second on the Mustangs with 6.3 rebounds per game, but her overall 54.5 percent field-goal shooting ranks 17th in the country.

“Her growth as a basketball player has been nothing shy of miraculous,” Mimnaugh said, “and I think she’s a testament to hard work and will give great hope to anyone who thought they weren’t quite there for high school. There’s still room for development if you put your mind to it.”

The giant-sized chip on Schlemer’s shoulder isn’t going anywhere either. 

“I’m going to continue to prove I deserve to be here,” she said. “I think that will stay with me as long as I’m here because so many people didn’t think I should be.”

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