ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It’s not often one family produces two athletes of such caliber as to play together on a college basketball team. But it’s even more rare to have two pairs of such siblings on one collegiate team, and the Tabor Bluejay women have just that.
Meet sisters Angela and Shannon Kroeker and Casey Stucky and Micki Soft.
The Kroekers, well known to the area, hail from hometown Hillsboro.
Stucky (her married name) and Soft, are from Wichita and played high school ball at Maize.
Although all four are currently teammates for the Bluejays, their road to Tabor was vastly different.
Having a family history of knee injuries, Stucky and Soft have had to fight through painful rehabilitation.
Stucky began her collegiate career at Hutchinson Community College. Fighting injuries, she attended school there for three years, before transferring to Tabor, where she has two years of eligibility remaining, including this one.
“I had some opportunities to go to bigger schools, but decided on Tabor to have more fun in a more relaxed atmosphere,” Stucky said. “I knew if I came here, that I could get Micki to come here also, because I knew she wouldn’t want to play against me.”
Smiling, Micki agreed.
“Casey coming here was a big, big influence for me,” she said.” I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to play together. And I just liked Tabor a lot.”
Coach Rusty Allen admitted that was the case.
“Until Casey decided to come here, I assumed Micki was going to Hutch,” Allen said. ” I didn’t really say much until the day Casey signed. Casey asked if I’d be interested in Micki, that she thought Micki had changed her mind about Hutch. I said I sure would.”
Both women thought Tabor had a lot to offer besides basketball though.
“I really enjoy the atmosphere here,” Casey said. “I think compared to other teams we’ve played, we really are Christ centered. I think it’s awesome to be able to play on a team where everybody has that mentality.”
“It’s just a wonderful place to be,” Micki added. “The minute you step on campus, you get that feeling of hominess.”
Both women also agreed that education is their main focus.
Casey, a psychology major, plans to pursue her masters degree after she graduates from Tabor.
Micki, a physical education major, hopes one day to coach her high school.
While both women are happy for the opportunity to play basketball together, their competitiveness still burns even though they are teammates.
“She’d never play me one on one when we were growing up,” Casey said. “Now we’re forced to play together and I think it’s more of a thing where we pull for each other.”
“She helps me out a lot. She gives me lots of tips. I view the opportunity to play with Casey as a gift from God.”
The two admitted responding differently when they receive playing advice from their sister.
“I take it better from her than she takes it from me,” Stucky said.
Soft agreed: “Maybe down the road, I’ll look at it and see she was just trying to help me out, instead of trying to criticize me.”
“Now that you’ve said that, maybe you’ll start listening to me.” Stucky said with a smile.
Allen has seen the older sisters be careful about being overly critical of their younger sister.
“Both Angela and Casey try to be sensitive to not come across as the parent of the younger sister,” he said. “They’re careful to not cross a line that causes a problem or hard feelings.”
While basketball is the common thread in their lives, Soft isn’t worried about being compared to her big sister.
“I’m starting to make my own identity here,” she said. “I’ll probably always be her little sister because I followed in her steps. But being in her shadow isn’t that big of a deal. I’d rather be known as her sister than not be known at all.”
The women expressed a mutual admiration and respect.
“I can watch her develop not only as a player, but as a person,” Stucky said. “Watching her make her own life, that will be my best memory.”
Soft agreed, saying, “Casey has made a path for me and that takes a big person to do that.”
The most admirable asset Soft sees in her sister is “her desire and competitiveness.”
“She’s a very tough person and I admire that a lot.” Soft said.
Stucky said she admires her sister for not giving up.
“We both had knee injuries that could have ended our careers,” Stucky said. “I know how hard it is to not give up. I admire her for not giving up and making the best with what you have.”
Ultimately, Stucky and Soft are more than just teammates and sisters.
“I really love my sister a whole lot,” Stucky said. ” I think it’s important everybody knows that. It’s awesome to be able to be on the court and have her there with me.
“The last game we got to play together, and after the game, our dad came up to us and said ‘I got to see both my girls play together,’ just to see that sparkle in his eyes, it’s the coolest thing ever. The way our parents tell other people about it is really a neat thing.”
“I love Casey a lot, too,” Soft said. ” I think it’s one of the greatest opportunities I’ll ever have in my life, to play basketball with her.”
The road to Tabor wasn’t nearly as long for Angela and Shannon Kroeker.
Hillsboro natives who played out their high school careers for the Trojans, both said the biggest draw for them was the opportunity to play three sports.
Both play basketball, volleyball, and are members of the Bluejay track team. Angela throws the discus while Shannon runs the 800.
Angela is majoring in business with aspirations of becoming an accountant. Shannon hopes to get a business degree, too. Her goal is to continue her education at a culinary school and one day become a chef.
Both women said Tabor’s strong Christ centered education also was a big factor in their college choice.
“I looked at a lot of Christian colleges, and I think this college will help me grow as a Christian,” Angela said. “That can only be a good thing.”
Shannon added, “It’s a small college, so everyone knows everyone.”
Allen said having the Kroekers’ father (David) work for Tabor and having Angela already enrolled here made a big difference getting Shannon to come, too.
“But it wasn’t the only deciding factor,” Allen said. “She took awhile to make up her mind. Ultimately though, I think Shannon was looking forward to playing basketball with her sister.”
The sister said they always looked forward to playing college ball together as they grew up.
“In the back of our minds, starting about junior high, we hoped we’d be able to play college ball together,” Angela said. “We’re both competitive, and with Dad coaching us, it got pretty intense. But now that we’re on the same team, you root for each other. We’re sisters, so obviously we want the other to do well.”
Critiquing each other’s game, though, doesn’t happen much.
“Our dad usually gets to us before the other one does,” Angela said with a laugh. “Mostly we’re encouraging each other more than critiquing.”
Comparisons between the two aren’t viewed as a bad thing, though.
“Last year, I was really known as Angela’s little sister, but this year, I’ve made my own niche,” Shannon said. “A lot of people expect me to be as good as her, though.”
Angela added: “We’re close. We’re just ordinary sisters. We’ll have our fun little shopping trips or whatever.”
The pair agreed that memories are being made everyday, and said they hope more and better ones are still to come.
“Dad always has this thing when we’re playing together- ‘Kroeker to Kroeker, assist, three pointer!’-, you know,” Angela said.
Added Shannon with a chuckle, “Yeah, we live to hear that over the loud speaker.”
Mutual respect is evident between the two sisters.
“I love Shannon’s work ethic,” Angela said. “If she has a bad day in the gym, she just works that much harder and won’t give up.”
Shannon said she looks up to her big sister, too.
“I admire her confidence the most,” she said. “I get nervous faster and tend to freak out about things. Angela is always calm and it’s a good thing for me to see.”
All four women have carved out an individual identity and it’s evident they’re satisfied with their college choice.
The opportunity to play basketball as well as to have additional years of “sisterhood” and camaraderie makes these sister acts a valuable commodity.
Their coach is happy to be a part of this family affair.
“They’re just outstanding people and players,” Allen said. “They are a big part of what we’re doing here.
“In both cases these are just quality families that have a lot to offer through their kids to our institution. I couldn’t be more happy with the way these ladies have conducted themselves, the way they’ve played, the way they’re improving, and how hard they compete.”
Allen knows it’s unusual to have two sets of sisters on one team, but he isn’t complaining.
“I was just blessed I was in the right place at the right time,” Allen said with a smile.