Best of the Decade: Prayer becomes life of basketball

   For just about as long as she can remember, Connie Myers wanted to be a basketball player.
   “You know how when you’re a kid and you pray silly little prayers? I remember laying in my bunk at night and praying that someday I’d make the (basketball) team.”
   Not only did she make the team, but she helped her team reach the pinnacle of both the high school and college game and now has been recognized by readers of The Post & Mail as the female athlete of the   decade.
   Myers, now Connie Kline, applied a solid work ethic to her natural ability to eventually help the Lady Eagle basketball team reach the state championship game in 2000 and her Northern Kentucky team reach the NCAA Div. II title game four years later.
   A strong front court presence who could shoot and rebound, Kline still holds the all-time scoring record at CCHS.
   One reader who picked Kline as the best female athlete of the decade said she was “the one I liked to watch play the most. A very good player.”
   Her journey to the top level of the sport hasn’t been without a lot of hard work, dedication and some exceptional teammates.
   “There were a lot of good players when I was going through,” Kline said. “It helps to have good players to play with.”
   Starting with Saturday basketball at Thorncreek, then playing in a league for all the county schools before joining a junior high travel team and playing all the 3-on-3 tournaments she could find, Kline arrived for tryouts at CCHS as a freshman both nervous and excited.
   “I was completely surprised that I made varsity as a freshman,” Kline said.
   Kline’s skills and work ethic not only earned her a spot on the varsity team, but put her in the starting lineup for every game of her high school career — except one.
   In the semistate her senior year, Kline tore her ACL. Her doctor told her that as long as the swelling went down, she could play if she wanted to.
   “It was not a tough decision for me to play,” Kline said.
   So Kline got a brace made and while she didn’t start — her younger sister Courtney did in her place — she did play in the state championship game.
   “I felt like I was swinging my leg behind me, but I still felt like I played hard.”
   “Connie was one of the strongest players physically and mentally that I have ever coached,” said Wayne Kreiger, who coached the Lady Eagles for 33 seasons. “... she played in the state championship game because of those attributes.”
   That effort in the championship game and her career of doing what was best for the team is what struck one reader who voted for Kline as the best. “She was intense and focused. She put her team before her pain. She did not ‘specialize’ to get ahead,” the reader said.
   “She had a never-say-die attitude and if the game was on the line, she would figure out a way to make it happen,” Kreiger said. “Her work ethic, desire and commitment were things that propelled her above the rest.”
   Looking back, Kline said the state championship game is one of her best memories of basketball.
   “When we were there, we were kind of in the moment and didn’t realize how special it was,” she said.  “But looking back, I realize now how neat of a thing  (the state championship) was for Columbia City and our team.”
   After high school, Kline says she didn’t really know what she wanted to  do, so she headed to IU for college. She found that she missed basketball and the team camaraderie. The summer after her freshman year, she played AAU  and was spotted by the Northern Kentucky coach at the state championship game who offered her a full-ride scholarship.
   “NKU just felt right,” Kline said.
   Playing at the collegiate level was a huge adjustment, Kline said. “There’s so much more to learn; offensive and defensive plays and if you don’t learn them you take yourself out.”
   By the seventh game of her freshman year at NKU Kline said things were finally clicking for her and she was having a really good game when the ACL in her other knee tore, ending her freshman season.
   Named a starter her sophomore year, Kline went on to help NKU reach the Division II national championship game her junior year.
   “We lost, she said, “but we reached the highest level you can get to as a team.”
   For Kline, the success she found on the court comes from hard work.
   “If you work hard, good things will happen. I remember Coach Kreiger saying that, and I really believe that. It’s worked for me.”
   Kline is now trying to instill that same philosophy and work ethic in the next generation of Lady Eagle players as an ISMS eighth-grade coach.
   “Who knows what the future may bring, but I know I want to stay in CC — that’s where my heart is — and I want to help continue the Lady Eagle.