For years, a brown-haired, pig-tailed girl roamed the gymnasium on the campus of Shawnee State University. Usually with a basketball in her general vicinity, she could be spotted at practice as the arena echoed from the sounds of whistles, shoes screeching along the hardwood and the slight moaning from players who were determined to be the best.
All decked out in her Bears’ gear, games were no different. This girl grew up watching her aunt build a legacy. She listened to stories of her mother’s adventures. She never had to officially be a Bear to be a lifelong Bear.
However, just like the rest of her family, once she was blessed with the ability to play basketball — the rest was a forgone conclusion.
On Wednesday, any remaining doubt went awry as everyone gathered for the official announcement. Surrounded by her aunt, Robin Hagen-Smith who coached the Bears for 30 seasons; her mother, Stephanie Schaefer, who played at Shawnee State; and family and friends, Hagen Schafer signed with SSU to play the next four years for head coach Jeff Nickel and the women’s basketball program.
“It was overwhelming with homecoming stuff going on and then being signed to Shawnee State,” Schaefer said. “It’s really exciting, especially since I’m going to carry on the legacy and the tradition with my mom playing down there, and Robin and Greg (Hagen-Smith’s husband and assistant on her coaching staff) coaching there. I am just really excited.”
While living up to the legacy of her aunt and mother at Shawnee can be intimidating, Schaefer doesn’t feel the pressure to live up to expectations.
“I don’t really think there is a lot of live up to, I’m just happy to be signed and have the opportunity to be able to play another four years of basketball at the collegiate level,” Schaefer said. “And I think that’s something really cool that a lot of people can never say,’ Oh, my aunt coached for 30 years at the university I’m going to go play for or my mom was an alumni at the school, and not only that, but she played for the same basketball team that I’m playing on.’ I think that’s exciting and not something a lot of people can say.”
Schaefer is excited for the next four years, having the opportunity to bring back the family-based team atmosphere that she remembers as a child. Schaefer used to attend every game and vividly remembers past players and fans approaching them to talk to Robin Hagen-Smith and Greg Smith. Often times, it would turn into a social event and the game would take a back seat.
“Every time I would go to a game, someone would say ‘hi’ to my entire family,” Schaefer said. “We wouldn’t usually end up watching the game because we would end up seeing these old players. I think that is unique, that is something a lot of these teams don’t have. They don’t have that unity that I think Shawnee State has. It’s not about being a team; it’s about being a family. Family is very important to me and it’s one of my more important morals. I’m just glad I have that family-based team that I am going to be a part of for the next four years.”
As far as Nickel is concerned, having Schaefer’s family involved in Shawnee Athletics can only enhance the program.
“She’s obviously a very good player but I think we’re getting a great person from a great family,” Nickel said. “It’s great to kind of have that family back involved in Shawnee State athletics. Coach (Hagen) Smith had such an illustrious career here. Stephanie played here. It’s great to have that family back in Shawnee State women’s basketball. It’s going to be really special. I know it means a lot to Hagen, but it also means a lot to us to have her in the program.”
Regardless of who her family is, Notre Dame head coach JD McKenzie believes Shawnee couldn’t ask for a better person.
“Shawnee is getting a very dedicated, humble, hard working, just amazing young lady,” McKenzie said. “And She’s just as good a person as she is a player and she’s a great player. She follows in the same mold as the last player who went to Shawnee from here, which was Jen Arnzen (2013). Both great talents that work hard on the court, work hard in the classroom. You couldn’t ask for a better kid.”
Schaefer doesn’t quite know what to expect when she arrives on campus in the fall but she’s ready to get to work.
“It’s a very big jump,” Schaefer said. “I know Shawnee has a lot of guards right now. I’m not sure if I’ll be getting a lot of playing time or what’s expected of me, but I know I’m going to work my butt off and I’m going to work hard to do whatever my role is — whether that’s being a practice dummy or just going in to give someone a break, whatever that role is, I’m going to try my best to fulfill that role.”
Nickel likes Schaefer’s work ethic and believes she has a bright future with the Bears.
“I think she’s an extremely hard worker,” Nickel said. “She’s a left-handed guard. That’s really great for her. She can possibly play the three and possibly be able to drive the middle. She shoots the ball pretty well. She can get to the basket. I think she’s got a lot of potential ahead of her. “
Schaefer is also leaving a winning program at Notre Dame and signing with a winning program at Shawnee. Being part of a winning program, winning three-conference titles out of the last four years with the Titans is very special to Schaefer and something that she said she will always cherish. But she’s also thrilled about signing with a program that has lost a combined eight games over the past two seasons and was ranked No. 5 last year in the NAIA tournament.
“I wouldn’t want to be on a losing team,” Schaefer said. “If I had the chance to play significant minutes on a losing team or be part of a winning team and barely play, I would definitely be part of the winning team. I honestly don’t know how I would handle that transition from winning all the time to losing and I know that sounds selfish, but I’m used to winning and I work extremely hard, it’s not in my mindset to lose.
“For teams that are used to losing, they are just there for the fun of it, which is very important, but if you’re used to winning, you constantly have the pressure on you and you constantly have something to work toward, and you’re always pushing yourself and your teammates to do better for all the numbers on the banner right there (on the gym wall); for all the different titles, trophies and nets that you cut down.”
Part of that winning mindset has been instilled in Schaefer by McKenzie who has built a winning foundation at Notre Dame, which he feels gets highlighted when a player has the opportunity to extend her career by signing at the collegiate level.
“We’ve got great kids and great players,” McKenzie said. “It kind of validates the hard work and the dedication that they put in, and you’re hoping that younger girls in the program are looking up, they see that and they hold that has their own goal when a girl like Hagen gets to sign and go play at the next level.”
And now, that brown-haired, pig-tailed girl might not be roaming around at practice, but for the next four years, those who have seen her grow up, might still see a resemblance out on the court as she hustles for the same basketball she started chasing all those years ago.