While most of her high school peers were playing basketball under the bright lights in conferences like the Mid-Suburban League, DuPage Valley and Upstate Eight, current Harper College freshman center Monica Hinderer was playing at lower-profile Willows Academy in Des Plaines.
That made it difficult for four-year schools to get a glimpse of the 6-foot-1 center. According to her father Doug, Monica never had interest from four-year schools in high school.
That's starting to change now, as a result of Hinderer's recent basketball performances at Harper. She tied her career-high with 33 points in a victory over Wright College on Tuesday and leads the Hawks in scoring, rebounds, field goal percentage, steals and blocks.
Getting to such a prominent role in college sports wasn't always a given for Hinderer, though.
The youngest of nine children would have attended Rolling Meadows High School in the MSL East if she'd gone to a public school, but that was not in the cards. Her three older sisters had attended Willows, and Hinderer followed in their footsteps. Her five older brothers attended Northridge Prep. And in any case, it seemed unlikely that sports would figure in her future.
"I said I would never be an athlete," Hinderer said.
That all started to change in the eighth grade, as Monica followed her father's example and took an interest in basketball. Doug had played high school basketball at Bishop McNamara in Kanakee.
"We have encouraged our family to play sports," said Doug Hinderer.
But unlike some who push their kids too far, Doug was mindful of to keep a healthy perspective on the game.
"I don't want to push her," he said. "I want to encourage her."
Monica recalls watching her dad working on basketball skills with one of her brothers in the family's driveway.
"I wanted to bond with my dad over something," said Monica. "When I got into basketball, he would treat me like my brothers."
Which was fine by her.
"What I've tried to teach all the kids is that you need to do it to the best of your ability," Doug said. "You need to be committed to it."
That certainly is the case these days. Harper coach Nichole Jones said her center "is a natural leader." But getting to the here and now wasn't always easy.
After making the Willows varsity team her freshman season, Hinderer was inserted into the Willows lineup for good when a veteran teamate went down with an injury. She also proved to be an outstanding goalie for the Willows soccer team and helped the team make it downstate in her junior year.
When her successful prep careers were over, Hinderer face a decision about what sport to choose at the collegiate level.
"I didn't know what sport I wanted to play," she said.
At her father's urging, Monica contacted Jones.
Jones first saw her future center play at the IBCA all-star game hosted by Illinois Weslyian University.
"It was pretty clear that she was there for the offensive things she can do," Jones said.
The eventual decision to join Jones' program has turned out pretty well, both athletically and academically. Hinderer finished the winter semester with a 3.35 GPA, and this spring semester, she's enrolled in 17 credit hours.
The whole process of competing at Harper went on hold, though, when before setting foot on the Palatine campus, Hinderer decided not to participate in sports.
Luckily for Jones and women's soccer coach Dwayne Cruz, Hinderer changed her mind.
"I figured I would give basketball another try because I loved it so much," she said.
Soon after that, Hinderer heard that the women's soccer team needed a goalie. The next day, she was on the practice pitch, between the pipes for Cruz.
It turned out well for all parties as the the Hawks overcame an injury-laden regular season in soccer and produced a terrific postseason run, including a victory over College of DuPage in the NCJAA Region IV championship game to earn a spot in the national tournament.
"I knew COD was a big game," said Hinderer. "It was incredible to beat them."
Hinderer's play in goal did not go unnoticed by her coach.
"She was a key factor to our success" Cruz said. "I'm looking foward to her coming back next year."
If Hinderer continues to play basketball the way she has recently, there's a chance Cruz won't get his goalie back.
Among NJCAA Division III players, Hinderer ranks second in scoring (22.2 ppg) and averages 12.3 rebounds, 10th in the nation.
"The more she demonstrates the skill, (college coaches) will come around," Jones said.
Despite all of her early season success, Jones says Hinderer's game is "developing ... She hasn't even begun to realize all the potential she has."
Can Hinderer take another Hawks program to another national tournament? The answer will have to wait until February, but Harper figures to have a strong say in it. The Hawks, 6-6 overall and 1-2 in the North Central Community College Conference, are the host team for the Region IV tournament.
"I know what nationals is," Hinderer said. "I know how great it is to get there.
"I really want that opportunity in basketball."
More than winning, though, Hinderer wants to demonstrate how fulfilling and satisfying it can be to be truly dedicated to sports. That's the legacy she'd like to leave at Harper, and another national tournament trip would surely help.
"The feeling, the sense of pride," she said. "I really want to get the girls that experience."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.