By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – Every athlete that goes from being a high school star to a college role player has an adjustment period, and former Oakridge basketball standout Sophia Wiard is no different.

Sophia Wiard controls the ball for Toledo. Photo/Toledo Athletics

Wiard recently completed her freshman season as the backup point guard for the University of Toledo women’s basketball team. She averaged 15 minutes per game off the bench, compared to playing just about every minute of every game in high school.

“It’s difficult,” Wiard said about making the transition. “But I feel like everybody has been in that position. It’s hard to swallow, but it makes you better if you handle it correctly.”

Of course, coming off the bench does not mean you can’t play an important role, and Wiard clearly did that on March 11, when she totaled six points, five rebounds and two assists in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

Her effort helped the Rockets upset Central Michigan University 78-71. The Chippewas were the top seed in the tournament, and were projected to be a ninth seed in the NCAA national tournament.

“I played the whole second quarter because Mariella (Santucci) was in foul trouble,” Wiard said. “I didn’t come out at all in the second, and that was a big win for us to get into the semifinals. That was when I said ‘Okay, I’m supposed to be here.’ It was awesome.”

Wiard during her days at Oakridge. Photo/Sherry Wahr

The team’s happiness with the upset victory was quickly replaced with disappointment on March 12, when the rest of the conference tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We actually were practicing,” said Wiard, when asked when she learned that the season had come to an abrupt halt. “We were in the (Cleveland) Cavalier’s practice gym and getting stretched out. We then met in the center when coach (Tricia Cullop) called us in and said we can’t practice anymore.

“That was a hard pill to swallow. I looked at the seniors who were crying, and it was tough because nobody wants a season to end, especially like that. We were playing our best ball and it was taken from us. It’s still tough.”

While her freshman season didn’t end the way she or her teammates may have wanted, the future is bright for Wiard, who said she learned a lot in her first year of college hoops.

“I played under a senior in Mariella and learned so much from her,” said Wiard, who finished the season averaging 3.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. “It actually helped me a lot, and it was a way for me to get a feel for the game and get some experience. I’m excited for next year.”

One aspect of her game Wiard wants to improve in the offseason is knowing when to look for her own shot, and when to distribute the ball.

“We’re losing some pretty good scorers,” said Wiard, who holds Oakridge girls basketball school records for points (1,889) and assists (450). “I know my role is to distribute and make things happen, but I’ll have to look to score more, which I did in high school.”

Whether she starts or comes off the bench next season, Wiard said she learned the importance of being prepared to contribute at any moment.

“I’ve always been comfortable, but I hit ruts this season,” she said. “I’d go from playing 20 minutes some games and seven minutes other games, which was tough. But I always had to be ready, and that was something I had to learn. You never know when you’ll be called, so you need to be ready and have the right mindset whenever you go in.”