By Sue Jane Mayes: CNJ correspondent
One entered the college ranks as a highly touted player out of New Mexico. The other was all but overlooked while attending a small private school in Louisiana.
Enter two Hall of Fame coaches who knew talent when they saw it, and Cisti Greenwalt and Sophia Young found themselves in what is arguably the country’s toughest conference.
Greenwalt and Young go head-to-head Saturday when Texas Tech (16-3, 7-1 conference) hosts Baylor (15-3, 6-2). The Lady Raiders are tied for first with Iowa State in the Big 12.
With 72 blocks this season, the 6-foot-5 Greenwalt is only padding her place as the all-time Big 12 career leader. The Clovis High product is also averaging 14.1 points and a Big 12 best 10 rebounds a game for the Lady Raiders — both career highs.
Young is averaging 17.1 points and is second to Greenwalt in the Big 12 in rebounding with 9.6 a game.
Their individual stories include much more than statistics. Both players experienced trial by fire into the Big 12.
Greenwalt is Tech’s lone senior, the only survivor of three incoming freshmen in the fall of 2001.
The state player of the year as a high school senior, Greenwalt was recruited by Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp to be the understudy to all-American candidate Plenette Pierson.
The apprenticeship ended suddenly when Pierson was suspended just four games into the 2001 season. When another Lady Raider departed just after Christmas, Greenwalt was thrust into a far bigger role than even she could have anticipated for her first year of collegiate ball.
Greenwalt finished her freshman year averaging 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. The learning was at times painful, but Sharp and her staff had one big consolation: Greenwalt gained valuable experience.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, Young’s senior year in high school was only her third year of competitive basketball. The exchange student from St. Vincent, West Indies, averaged 26 points and 15.3 rebounds a game at Evangel Academy, but didn’t draw much attention playing at the small private school in Shreveport.
College recruiting is so much about connections, and who had better connections to Louisiana than the state’s favorite female athlete of all time, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.
An Olympic gold medalist from the 1984 games, Mulkey-Robertson carved a name for herself in the women’s game while coaching at Louisiana Tech in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With contacts across the state, the then second-year Baylor coach felt Young could play at the Division I level. She was in the minority as no other major university recruited her.
By mid-season her freshman year, Young pushed her way to a starting position and has been there ever since. She started Baylor’s final 16 games, averaging 13.2 points while being honored by the media as the Big 12’s freshman of the year in 2002-2003.
As two of the best post players in the Big 12, Greenwalt and Young prove that there is more than one path to college stardom.