Ringgold High School’s Marlena Schmidt prefers to not be remembered for her height. As a 6-6 center for the Rams’ girls basketball team, which is preparing for a first-round playoff game with Hopewell, Schmidt often towers over the opposition and the result is blocked shot after blocked shot.
She has been the tallest girl in school for as long as she can remember and does not like to be pegged as simply the tall girl. Outside of basketball, she holds a 4.0 grade-point average, plays the drums in the school’s marching band and plans on majoring in a math-related field in college.
“Every time I go out in public, people comment on my height,” Schmidt joked. “I have to always explain where I go to school and tell them that yes, I do play basketball. There’s more to me than just that. It gets old after a while.”
While she does not want her height to define her, opposing coaches have a difficult time not marveling at her size.
When Schmidt was introduced in Ringgold’s starting lineup Saturday at Chartiers Valley, she ceremoniously shook the hands of South Fayette’s assistant coach and the three officials calling the Class AAA preliminary round game. As she approached each official, they peered up at the West Virginia recruit with a surprising look on their faces.
It’s not often the WPIAL sees a girls basketball player of that size, especially one that brings a multi-dimensional game to her team. Schmidt, a steady offensive presence for the Rams (12-9), has played a pivotal role in Ringgold’s run to the Class AAA playoffs, including the program’s first playoff win in six years. South Fayette made six three-point shots, but it was the play of Schmidt that made the difference – creating second chances for the Rams and preventing them for the Lions.
The victory sends Ringgold to a first-round matchup against No. 4 seed Hopewell (18-3) Wednesday at Chartiers Valley. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. The Vikings do not have a player taller than 5-10, posing another potential mismatch for a Rams opponent.
“I just try helping my team any way I can,” Schmidt said. “It’s tough trying not to do too much, but my coaches always tell me that I don’t always have to block a shot. Altering shots is just as good.”
Game after game, Schmidt not only relentlessly grabs rebounds, but rejects scoring attempts in the post by blocking shots. In the Rams’ 50-31 win over Waynesburg Jan. 20, the junior center blocked 15 shots and scored 13 points. She is averaging 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks per game. The advantage she gives her team is one rarely seen at the high school level.
When Schmidt grabs five or more rebounds, the Rams are 12-0. When she does not, they are winless.
“She is a nightmare for teams to box out and to match up against,” Ringgold first-year head coach Laura Grimm said. “She does a great job of commanding so much attention defensively that it opens things up for our offense.”
That was the case against South Fayette. The Lions had 6-2 forward Emily Anderson defending Schmidt, but with no luck. Lions head coach Matt Bacco then tried to frustrate Schmidt with an additional defender. Unfortunately for his team, Ringgold’s guards – junior Kara Foster, senior Eleni Radic and sophomore Bailey Cooper, the Rams’ leading scorer – made them pay with a combined 29 points.
To prepare for smaller teams such as South Fayette and Hopewell, Ringgold’s starting lineup practices against eight defenders. The simulation has helped Schmidt prepare for any opponent – big or small.
“Our new coaching staff has us playing as a team,” Schmidt said. “We are really developing. It’s tough to have seniors be really close with freshmen but that is happening on this team. Not having issues with chemistry has helped us get this far.”
Grimm, who came to Ringgold after two years as an assistant at Baldwin, was surprised at the talent she inherited. Looking at the program’s previous season, it was boom or bust for the Rams, who either won by a wide margin or vice versa. Under Grimm’s leadership, the losses have been nail-biting. In seven of Ringgold’s nine losses, the margin of defeat has been six points or less.
“I inherited a team that definitely had a lot of potential,” Grimm said. “I think it’s surpassed all of my expectations. The whole group has been completely awesome.”
Schmidt’s development has skyrocketed in her junior season with coaching receiving some of the credit. In previous years, she would leave her feet when attempting to block a shot or grab a rebound. The result was fouls called against her. Grimm instructed the 6-6 center to remain standing and use her height to her advantage. During a playoff push that is occurring after three months of consistent post play from Schmidt, it’s obvious that the instruction was well-taken.
“It’s really hard to account for a girl who is six-foot-six,” Grimm said. “You can’t simulate that in practice. She has certainly become our anchor back there. She has really come into her own role now.”