Look up the word competitive in the dictionary and you will certainly see a lot of athletes who exemplify it over the years.
Montana State University-Northern Skylight Laramie Schwenke is one of them.
And that c
ompetitiveness has lifted Schwenke through some dark times during her career at Northern and spurned her on to become one of the best players in the Frontier Conference.
Schwenke, who came to Havre as a highly touted player from the Malta M-Ette program has endured three different knee injuries in her four years of basketball at MSU-N, and through it all, she’s persevered.
It speaks volumes to not only her competitiveness, but her toughness, her character and her love for the game of basketball, and the Skylight program.
“Laramie is one of, if not the most competitive players I’ve ever coached,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat, who recruited Schwenke out Malta said. “She will do whatever it takes to win. She can will herself and her team to win if at all possible.
“We have a summer retreat every year and something as simple as our fishing derby, she wants to win that,” he added. “She’s just a tough, tough kid with a huge competitive spirit and that’s got her through some tough times and it’s helped her become one of the best players in our league.”
That competitive fire was certainly stoked while at Malta, where she was a three-time Class B All-State selection, where she helped the M-Ettes capture the 2007 Class B state championship and where she was selected to play in the prestigious Montana-Wyoming All State Series.
That competitive fire has also helped Schwenke to a career average of 13 points per game at Northern, where she’s averaging 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals per outing during her senior season.
But it was that competitive fire she needed most in order to just keep playing basketball, because she’s certainly been presented with reasons to give up during her time in Havre.
First came a freak accident when she slipped on the ice after practice in January of 2009, partially tearing her ACL and missing the last three months of the season.
Fully healed from that injury, and playing extremely well in a starting role her sophomore year, another setback struck. In January of 2010, Schwenke suffered a fully torn ACL of her right knee, which forced her to miss the remainder of that season, as well as required surgery and a full six months of rehab.
The second knee injury was a setback Schwenke didn’t know if she would, or wanted to come back from at the time.
“When the second one happened, initially I was pretty crushed,” she said. “There was plenty of moments of self pity and asking myself ‘why me?’. I definitely had some doubts if I could even come back from this, if I could even do what it would take to play again.
“But I’m a really competitive person and eventually my stubbornness kicked in,” she added. “I decided that I was just going to be positive about it. I had great support from my family and my teammates and coach Mouat, who just kept telling me that I could do it and that everything would be ok eventually. They made me feel like I would make it through it and at the same time, I realized I didn’t want to be done with basketball.”
Not wanting to be done with basketball is something that drove Schwenke to recover. She plays the game with a passion and a reckless abandon that has eventually led to the highest of highs, but a very beat up and sore body as well.
That love of the game, and the love of wearing a Skylight uniform pushed her through a summer of intense rehab, and it’s ultimately what led to a healthy and successful junior season where she earned Frontier All-Conference honors.
“There were times during my rehab that it was really tough,” Schwenke said. “But I just kept pushing forward and I had great people helping me too. I owe a lot to (MSU-N Assistant Athletic Trainer) Nichole (Borst). She dedicated an entire summer to helping me rehab, and I won’t lie, at times, I didn’t like her very much during it because she pushed me hard. But she was a huge help to me and she did that when she didn’t have to and I’ll always be grateful for having her. Kaylee Shaw was another big help because she’s been through knee injuries too and she really helped me with the mental part of it. She was there for me every step of the way.”
And eventually the hard work and rehab paid off.
After a stellar junior season, Schwenke was poised for even bigger things during her senior year.
But it wouldn’t be a Laramie Schwenke story without a few more setbacks and those setbacks came almost immediately.
In October, as the Skylights opened the 2011-12 season, Schwenke went down with a torn meniscus, forcing her to miss the opening five games of the year. She had minor surgery for the injury and was back playing again just over a month later. But then came one of the worst high ankle sprains anyone around these parts can remember. It didn’t force her to miss any games, but it certainly illustrates just what Schwenke has had to endure in order to be a great player at the collegiate level.
“I definitely feel it more now,” Schwenke said. “I feel pretty sore the morning after games but I guess that’s all part of it. It’s the way I play. I have to play hard at all times, that’s just how I am. And I guess I’m going to feel like that because my body has been through some pretty traumatic things. Knee injuries and surgeries and just the wear and tear, the pounding your body takes from playing basketball as much as I have over the years.
“But I really look at it all right now and I think it’s all been worth it,” she added. “I know everything I’ve been through has made me such a stronger and more appreciative person. I know there have been times in the past I’ve taken playing basketball for granted. I don’t do that anymore. I really appreciate everything I’ve had through this game, and all of this has made me a better person I believe. I love the game, I love my team and all the teammates I’ve been able to play with. I love playing for coach Mouat. He’s been a tremendous influence on my life, and not just with the game of basketball. And I love playing here at Northern. Never once have I doubted my decision to come here and play. I’ve always loved every second of playing here. So everything I’ve gone through has all been worth it in my eyes.
“Laramie has had to overcome a lot,” Mouat said. “She’s had to come back from knee injuries and missing a lot of games. And it’s been really impressive to see her battle through it all. She’s battled through everything that’s came her way and I couldn’t be more proud of her. And I think she’s really become not just a great basketball player, but she’s also really grown as a person through all of this. And it’s sad to see it getting close to an end because I really feel like she’s just now starting to play the best basketball of her life. But she’s someone, that when it is time to say those goodbye’s, myself and this program will miss a great deal. She’s been a special player and she’s done a lot for this program.”
Fortunately, Schwenke isn’t quite done yet.
She’s helped Northern to a stellar 18-6 record heading into the final regular season home games of her career. The Skylights have gelled together as a new team with a lot of new faces, while Schwenke has been the leader all the way. In her own right, Schwenke has become one of the premier guards in the Frontier and is one of the leading 3-point shooters in the NAIA. For her senior season, she’s averaged shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, and has hit her career high of 25 points on multiple occasions.
But first and foremost, Schwenke is about winning and is much more about the name on the front of her jersey than the one on her back. She plays the game the way she does because she loves it and she loves her teammates. She’s fought through the injuries, the rehab and the doubts so that she can stay on the court, playing with her team, her friends and for season’s like the one the Skylights are having now.
“Laramie has had a huge hand in us winning a lot of games this year,” Mouat said. “I wouldn’t even want to imagine where we would be without her. She’s become a great player and a great leader in our program and she’s done it by having to overcome a lot in her years here.
“I do feel like I’ve improved my game,” Schwenke added. “And I owe a lot of that to coach Mouat. He’s a great coach and he’s helped my game so much. But honestly, I don’t look at the stats, or think of the things I’ve done individually. That’s just me. I just want to win. And I just want to be the best player I can be for my team. That’s how I’ve always tried to approach the game.
“And this season has been amazing,” she continued. “This year, our team has come together so quickly. We just really bonded and we have great chemistry on and off the court. We’ve had some great wins and we still have goals of winning a conference championship and going to the national tournament like some of the great Northern teams of the past. This season has been really special for me and I just love playing with this team.”
Take one look at Schwenke when she’s charging down the court, diving for a loose ball or letting go of that high-arching jump shot she has and you'll see what she means. She does love the game of basketball. She does love being a Skylight and she does love giving it her all.
And if giving it her all, if playing the game she loves the way she wants to play it has meant injuries, sore knees and missed games, when you watch Schwenke play, you’ll know she’d do it all over again.
It’s competitive personified.