The UW-Eau Claire women's basketball team made a respectable showing in last week's NCAA tournament, the Blugolds losing in the second round to the University of Chicago, the 2nd ranked team in Division 3.
In our Gordy's Athlete of the Week, SportScene 13's Bob Gallaher takes a look at Blugolds center Ellen Plendl who was a major force in returning Eau Claire to college basketball's national stage.
Coach Tonja Englund: "I don't think Ellen knew how good Ellen is, that's what's amazing about this, she's very humble, low key...."
For Blugolds senior Ellen Plendl, her basketball career has been quite a journey, unheralded and not on the radar screen coming out of Chippewa Falls McDonell four years ago, which seems hard to believe considering Ellen stood well over six-feet tall.
Ellen Plendl/Blugolds Senior Center: "Back in high school, I never dreamed that I'd play college basketball, let alone playing for Coach Englund. It's really been a blessing and an honor to come in here and be part of this program."
Plendl admits playing basketball was far from enjoyable as recent as two years ago when the Blugold women struggled through a 10-17 season, but her perseverance and the belief from Coach Englund was worth the effort as two years later, UW-Eau Claire was back on the national stage after winning a share of the WIAC title.
Last weekend at the Chicago regional, Ellen was arguably the best player on the floor. In the Blugolds first round win over Simpson, Plendl scored 21 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and was a shot-blocking machine, recording six against the Storm. Then on Saturday, in the Blugolds heart-breaking loss to unbeaten Chicago, Ellen tied a career-high with 23 points, and added 12 rebounds.
Coach Tonja Englund: "When we got out there nationally it was a huge pride point for me, people saw what I thought for the past couple of years. She was changing shots, changing games...."
Ellen Plendl: "This year was pretty amazing considering where we were a couple of years ago, to getting back to the NCAA tournament. It really means a lot to us to be able to this far again."
With her basketball playing days now complete, Ellen says she's eager for the next chapter in her life, becoming a teacher and having an impact on kids, much like Coach Englund was for her.
Ellen Plendl: "I'd love to be a physical educator in the future, I think a lot of what we do here is relevant, coaches have taught me a lot about attention to detail, time management, everything like that, so it's great."
Coach Tonja Englund: "I look at Ellen now and she's a strong, confident female, who's going to be a great teacher. To see what basketball can do for a human being, for Ellen it kept her here, kept her growing. has made friends that she will have for a lifetime. But it's made her, defined her, and she has a place, history in this program as one of the best players ever."
Ellen Plendl: "If Coach can take me, and help me become what I have, there's hope for anybody."