Last year at this time, then 6-year-old Sophie Eli could be seen flaunting a
homemade, hand-painted t-shirt that proclaimed “My Big Sister is The Simone Eli” during Genoa’s fourth-straight appearance in the sectional basketball final.
At Genoa, 5-foot-8, 118 pound Simone amassed 1,350 career points, two Suburban Lakes League titles, one District 7 Player-of-the-Year award in four years.
Simone has scored a total of six points during her freshman season as a Bowling Green Falcon, but she has seen playing time — playing in 13 games
But she did get to wear the much-sweeter t-shirt trimmed in BG orange that read “2009-2010 MAC Champs” as an up-and-coming point guard for coach Curt Miller’s six-time Mid-American Conference-champion, NCAA postseason tournament-bound Falcons
“Really, ever since I was old enough to understand the importance of the NCAA tourney around the age of 6, I have watched every year the selections of the teams that have earned their positions to play, as one of the top 64 teams in the whole country,” enthuses the 18-year-old Eli.
Eli, along with three-time MAC Player-of-the-Year Lauren Prochaska, sharpshooting junior guard and conference second-teamer Tracy Pontius, fellow freshman Allison Papenfuss, and the rest of the red-hot, 27-6 BG lady ballers, learned a week ago Monday night during a “Selection Party” at the Sebo Athletic Center that the mighty orange and brown, after narrowly defeating backyard rival Toledo 62-53 in a nail-biter at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena during the MAC tourney, would meet a formidable No. 5 seed Michigan State.
MSU and the No. 12 seed Falcons met March 20 in Louisville, Kentucky in regional action.
“It has always been one of my dreams as a basketball player, to have that opportunity to feel that rush of seeing my team’s name come up on the television screen, as one of the very, very best teams in the nation,” reflects Eli, a two-time First-Team All-SLL playmaker at Genoa.
“Because it’s when ESPN starts to run through the brackets region by region, that the true magic of the various teams, and their players throwing their hands in the air in celebration, and wildly cheering really begins to happen, when they see themselves on national TV.”
“Three years ago as a sophomore at Genoa High School, I watched the BGSU women’s basketball program advance all the way to the “Sweet 16” under Coach Miller, and I was really, really impressed,” adds Eli, who also remains the Lady Comet’s second all-time leading scorer.
So far, her prep hoops resume thus far also boasts 176 career three-pointers (which is a school record), four sectional championships from ’05-’09, a career high game of 38 points which she hung on longtime SLL rivals the Gibsonburg Lady Golden Bears during her senior campaign in ’09 (while going 16 of 18 from the line in the fourth quarter), one SLL Player-of-the-Year award during that same fateful year, and of course, an explosive 24-point offensive output in the annual “North/South All-Ohio All-Star Game” in ’08-’09, the latter of which she helped lift her “North” squad to a victory.
“But never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that one day I’d have the privilege to play for such an incredible coach and team,” admits Eli, “let alone have the chance to celebrate on the floor after the MAC tourney, and then two days later get invited to what has long been known in college basketball as the ‘Big Dance.’
“I so look forward to seeing those stands down in Louisville fill up with orange and brown, as everyone has been telling me to really soak up what could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Though to tell you the truth, so far it’s all been a little overwhelming, but in a good way.”
No. 22 hopes one day to be ensconced at starting point guard at BG. But her road has also been rife with challenges.
Like the unexpected knee surgery which saw Eli get a third of her meniscus removed from her left knee in the summer of 2009. Then, the two-and-a-half months that were filled with rehab in the Sebo Center pool. Meanwhile, other Falcons were getting to work out and elevate their games to the college level without her.
There have been long days of conditioning, during which Eli said she and her freshmen teammates often felt like dying. As well as mornings when they had to arise from slumber at 6 a.m. for sets, reps, and heavy, cold iron in the Sebo Center weight room.
All for 19 solid minutes of playing time throughout her formative freshman season; a three-pointer and an assist during an exhibition win over nearby Findlay earlier in the year; her first collegiate three-pointer in a regular-season game against Appalachian State, during which she also picked up her first steal; a season-high five minutes of playing time against SIU Edwardsville, where she notched her very first Lady Falcon assist, and ripped down a rebound; and most notably, her second bucket and three-bomb of the long ’09-’10 season against Miami in the quarter-final contest of the big MAC tourney.