Reaching Her Peak: East senior is The Republic Girls Basketball Player of the Year

Columbus East senior Saige Stahl is The Republic Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She is pictured at The Republic in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, February 28, 2023.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Saige Stahl’s high school basketball career almost never happened.

For Stahl, she was really concentrated on volleyball as her main sport entering high school. After seeing how much potential she had as a basketball player, and with the support of her coaches and family and friends, the Columbus East senior quickly began making the ascension as one of the top basketball players in the state. She capped off her high school career with an Indiana All-Star selection.

After sharing the honor with former teammate Koryn Greiwe last season, Stahl repeated as The Republic Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

“She was one of the most improved players we had. She continued that desire, that determination that she has to be the best. She really worked hard on her game in the summer and brought that into the season,” said Danny Brown, who retired as East coach at the end of the season after 20 years at the helm. “One of the things with our schedule, it really brought out her determination. She took everybody’s best shot. She was double-teamed, and she was triple-teamed. I can’t think of one game where I can say she didn’t have a good game. That’s against one of the top schedules in the state, some of the best players guarding her in the state and she rose to the challenge. There’s no doubt she’s best player in the area and one of the best players in the state.”

Stahl began giving basketball at shot in fifth grade at Immanuel Lutheran in Seymour after watching her two older sisters, Sydney and Sophia play. When Saige was in seventh grade, she played up with the eighth-grade class and helped her team claim the Lutheran State Tournament championship.

At the same time, Stahl excelled in volleyball. She played for Columbus Volleyball Academy, where her team finished runner-up in the 14-and-under division in the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championship in 2019. With how much success the Olympian volleyball program had, coupled with several of her teammates from the CVA heading there, too, Stahl made the decision to attend Columbus East.

Stahl admitted that her love for basketball disappeared when she was beginning high school. It was more the case following her freshman season after having a limited varsity role. Stahl thought about giving up basketball all together and focusing strictly on volleyball. But then, Stahl received a text from East JV coach Kylie Weichman about giving basketball one last chance. It was Weichman that saw how much potential Stahl really had to be a superb basketball player.

Stahl listened.

“She continuously texted me, telling me that I’d enjoy it and to come and try it out. Without her doing that, I wouldn’t be playing basketball right now,” Stahl said. “I have to thank her so much for everything that she’s put in to me.”

Stahl worked on her shooting and ballhandling skills. Due to the fact she was quick in the paint, she also worked on her post moves. She became a key player toward the end of her freshman year and was full-time varsity her sophomore year.

“I saw this instinct that she had with the game of basketball and really untouched talent that she had not necessarily seen in herself,” Weichman said. “I knew that if she would stick with basketball, some really, really good things would happen. I kept telling her and reassuring her that I believed in her, and I thought that if she would work really, really hard, the sky would be the limit for her because she was full with so much potential.”

That sparked Stahl as one of the fastest growing talents in the state during her sophomore year and junior year campaigns, but it wasn’t easy. Stahl admitted she was behind the 8-ball and had to play catch up and fast. Not playing AAU heading into her freshman and sophomore years, she joined the Indiana Elite in 2021 and the Nike Gym Rats in 2022.

Stahl led the Olympians with 26.0 points and 9.9 rebounds and 3.2 steals a game this year. She finished with career with 1,276 points, which is fifth all-time behind Greiwe (1,656), Maria Stack (1,518), Bryn Gallagher (1,360) and Shelby Ross (1,359).

“First, I think she saw that she could really be good. She had that skill level to get it done. Her work ethic is unlike anyone that I ever had. Also, she has a tremendous attitude that she wants to get it done,” Brown said. “She has these little goals of, ‘I want to be one of the top scorers in the state, I want to be one of the best players in the state, I want to get that D-1 scholarship, I want to make the Indiana All-Star team.’ She was striving for that. It never sacrificed the team goals. She met those goals. She’s one of the top players I’ve ever coached.”

Stahl received much support from her family over the past four years. She would sometimes shoots around and play some basketball with her younger brother, Hudson Lang. They’d work out together and shoot on the basketball court at their house, and at times, compete against each other. Things can understandably get much more intense when competing against a sibling.

“We don’t take things lightly, whether it’s playing one-on-one or ‘HORSE’ or ‘PIG’, everything is a competition,” Stahl said. “He really pushes me. Even though he is younger than me, he’s a great basketball player. He looks up to me, and I think that’s what makes me want to work even harder.”

Probably her biggest supporter through her career has been her mother, Misty Poole. Before she obtained her driver’s license, it was Poole that drove her to Columbus every day, even if it meant waiting for Stahl after basketball and volleyball practices and going to games.

Stahl mentioned that she has a pregame routine of throwing her warmup gear to her mom and boosts her energy by drinking a Gatorade and eating some Sour Patch straws before the game. Stahl said her mother will be at her games next year when she plays collegiately at Indiana State.

“Growing up in a big family, I’ve always had competition. I’m the youngest daughter, and everything, I had to work for. Being the last one and going to college for basketball definitely paid off. I’m very appreciative of her and my family.” Stahl said. “Whether I play good or bad that day, she’s still going to be proud of me.”

Stahl won many awards for her success on the court this year. She was named MVP of the East girls basketball team, won the Olympian Award and was named Most Improved on her team.

Also, she was selected to the 2023 Indiana Basketball Coaches Association/Franciscan Health Girls Senior All-State Supreme 15, the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association All-State first team, All-Hoosier Hills Conference and participated in the Hoosier Basketball Magazine Girls Top 60 Senior Workout earlier this month.

“Being around her, she’s a great kid with a great attitude,” Brown said. “She’s always positive. She’s a joy to be around. Those are attributes that have taken her to the next level.”

While Stahl was a rising star across the state in basketball, she also played volleyball in the fall her first three years, and during her sophomore year, she played for the softball team in the spring. During her sophomore and junior years of volleyball and basketball, she was an undefeated Hoosier Hills Conference champion in both sports. Stahl made the tough decision to forgo her senior year of volleyball to focus on basketball.

Reflecting back on it now, her decision to reignite her passion for basketball turned out to be the correct choice. Stahl will follow that passion next year and continue her basketball journey with the Sycamores.

“I was a huge volleyball fan. I loved volleyball, but then basketball took its way over. I found out that I was better at basketball than I was at volleyball, so I carried on with that,” Stahl said. “Not playing volleyball my senior year was a tough decision, but I do think it helped me focus on basketball. It helped me have the senior season in basketball that I did have. I do miss it, but I’m very grateful for basketball and I’m grateful for the three years of volleyball that I did have.”

Stahl has already found a roommate for next year and is excited about the new opportunity to play with different players and coaches and being in a different atmosphere and a much bigger gym. She leaves for the Terre Haute campus in July.

Stahl likely will have her picture, and possibly her jersey, hanging on the school’s Wall of Fame on the east end of The Orange Pit. Having the opportunity to represent East is something she’ll cherish for the rest of her life. She’s thankful for all of her teammates, coaches, family and friends that helped shape her into the person and player she is today.

“It’s definitely unbelievable. I never thought at any point when I was a freshman that I would be where I’m at today, especially in basketball,” Stahl said. “I definitely feel excited for what’s next. To experience all those things, and to wear that uniform, it’s definitely a blessing.”

The 2022-23 Republic All-Area Girls Basketball team:

Saige Stahl, Columbus East: The senior led the Olympians with 26.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game.

Leah Bachmann, Columbus East: The senior averaged 8.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals and led the Olympians with 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocks.

Jenna Guse, Columbus East: The junior averaged 6.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.6 steals.

Lauren Barker, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with 14.0 points and 1.8 steals and added 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists.

Kathryn Wilson, Columbus North: The junior averaged 6.7 points and 1.7 steals and led the Bull Dogs with 6.9 rebounds.

Juliann Woodard, Jennings County: The junior led the Panthers with 22.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.4 blocks.

Mollie Ernstes, Jennings County: The freshman averaged 12.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Bailey Tabeling, Trinity Lutheran: The senior led the Cougars with 22.2 points, 4.6 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.7 blocks and added 8.0 rebounds.

Madison Keith, Trinity Lutheran: The sophomore averaged 11.5 points and 2.1 steals and led the Cougars with 9.0 rebounds.

Liza Froedge, Trinity Lutheran: The junior averaged 9.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals.

Madelyn Poe, Hauser: The junior led the Jets with 15.5 points and 2.6 steals and added 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Lexie Austin, Brown County: The junior led the Eagles with 13.1 points and added 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Gracie Crawhorn, Edinburgh: The senior led the Lancers with 12.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists and added 2.1 steals.

Kiley Best, South Decatur: The sophomore led the Cougars with 12.6 points, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals and added 3.8 rebounds.

Sarah Lorimor, Columbus Christian: The senior led the Crusaders with 21.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.5 steals and added 2.9 assists.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Ava Stogsdill. Columbus Christian: Emma Murray. Columbus East: Allison Craig, Maeleigh Roberts. Columbus North: Kennedy Horn, Hadassah Hurt, Emma Long, Miley McClellan. Edinburgh: Kenna Streeval. Hauser: Adrianna Musillami, Kyliegh Parrott. Jennings County: Maddie McInotsh, Megan Vogel. South Decatur: Makayla Somers. Trinity Lutheran: Jordan Brewer.