PORTSMOUTH — Shawnee State senior forward Hagen Schaefer has always grown up with sports as a part of her makeup and background.
However, it’s Schaefer’s academic success and overall character that has, as much as anything else, allowed the 5-8 local native to carve her own path.
Now in her final season of competition inside the area where she and her entire family have made significant memories and crossed off significant milestones, Schaefer is ready to shoot for the NAIA’s mountaintop — a national championship — after having that opportunity taken from her and the members of the 2019-20 group a season ago.
“It’s honestly an honor to be able to play and contribute to the same program that my aunt and uncle built and contributed to,” Schaefer said. “Being around this program since I was born, I have a really good idea of what it’s built on — tradition, sacrifice, character building, and being a family. I’ve always known that I wanted to add on to that tradition, whatever that role may be. More so this year, especially with being in the midst of a pandemic, we are facing adversity all of the time and never know what’s going to be thrown at us each day. Coach Nickel has been constantly reminding us to not take days for granted, and approach every day as our last. I feel that this has really been my approach and will continue to be throughout the entirety of our season, however long it may last. My goal is to get better each day and to not take any opportunities for granted, because I don’t know how much time I have and never know when my last game or practice may be.”
Pursuing passions with freedom
Even with the significant family bloodlines — as evidenced by the contributions of her aunt and uncle, Robin Hagen-Smith and Gregg Smith, who built the SSU women’s basketball program from the ground up with their 638 wins in 25 seasons together; and her mother, Stephanie, who played for her sister during the first two seasons of the program’s existence from 1988 to 1990 — Schaefer was always given the freedom and autonomy to pursue her own passions.
That, Schaefer said, was helpful in her own progression as a person — especially as she began to pursue sports as a passion in her own right.
“My family made it a priority to allow me to make my own decisions and better myself without having to force it,” Schaefer said. “I feel that this aspect really allowed me to learn to genuinely love the sport on my own, and be intrinsically motivated to work and continually get better. I had several resources to go to from my aunt and uncle, Mom, (J.D.) McKenzie, and so on.”
Entering Titan territory
By the time Schaefer got to high school, Notre Dame — and Schaefer as well — had their ideals and goals all set.
Over her final three seasons of competition, the forward — under McKenzie’s direction — led Notre Dame to a 63-11 record on the basketball floor to go along with three consecutive SOC (Southern Ohio Conference) I championships.
Schaefer averaged 18.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 steals as a junior and notched 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and two steals as a senior — earning Division IV first team all-Southeast District and second team all-Ohio honors in each of her last two years as a Titan.
“Coach McKenzie and I had a very close relationship and I attribute a lot of my early success to him and my teams,” Schaefer said. “He believed in me, along with the rest of the Notre Dame community and my teammates, which ultimately paved the way to winning three out of four conference championships as well as the accolades that my teammates and I received.”
Along with her success on the basketball court, Schaefer proved to be critical in establishing the Titans’ success on the volleyball court as well.
She notched 1,587 career assists and 258 aces on a 95.8-percent serving mark, while leading Notre Dame to an outstanding 86-16 record in her four years.
The Titans made the school’s first three trips to the Division IV regional tournament (2014, 2015, 2016) in the process.
Softball-wise, Schaefer’s contributions in the outfield and at the plate were tremendous over a four-year stretch.
Her play was especially big in 2014 and 2015, when Schaefer helped Notre Dame reach the Division IV regional finals as a freshman and the Division IV district finals as a sophomore.
“Being a three-sport athlete really taught me how to manage my time and find a good balance of being both an athlete and a student,” Schaefer said. “I know that Kelsey Glockner (former SSU volleyball player), who I played for during my junior and senior year, really had a positive impact for me. We became very close in just a short amount of time. She always believed in my abilities and pushed me to be the best that I could be. She taught many life lessons that have carried over to my current athletic and academic careers at the collegiate level.”
Most importantly, however, the sacrifices that Schaefer made across all three sports taught her a key quality that can be tough to master — unselfishness.
“Beyond the relationships, playing three sports taught me to play for something bigger than myself, and that was to play for my teammates,” Schaefer said. “At Notre Dame, we have very small classes and availability of athletes, so we all have played multiple sports for each other. I truly enjoyed volleyball and softball, and although basketball was my favorite sport, I continued to play the others for my teammates, who favored those sports over basketball, as they did for me. This built a special and unique dynamic that still continues to live on at Notre Dame.”
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