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Air Force veteran Sarah Gudeman has been a real find for Hancock women's basketball team

Santa Maria Times - 1/24/2020

Jan. 24--Veteran Hancock College women's basketball coach Cary Nerelli has made a habit of recruiting the old-school way, going to games in high school gymnasiums throughout the area and taking copious notes while scouting for potential players for his team.

What he had not done was find a future Hancock player in his own gymnasium.

That was before he saw Air Force veteran Sarah Gudeman diving for a loose ball on the floor of Hancock's Joe White Memorial Gymnasium during a Hancock physical education class in the fall of 2018. Nerelli was sold immediately.

"I didn't care what her skill level was," he said. "Anyone going after a loose ball like that, I wanted her for my team.

'An assistant coach for our men's team was teaching a PE class, and he said there were a couple of girls I should look at." Gudeman was one.

Nerelli said when he first saw Gudeman he figured she would be a practice team player. Now the 5-foot-8 Gudeman, 25, is a sophomore and, at press time, was leading the team in rebounds (nearly nine) and steals (2.3) per game.

Many players who were forwards in high school become guards in college because of the height differential at the two levels. Gudeman has gone in the opposite direction.

"I was a shooting guard in high school," she said with a laugh. Now Gudeman is about the closest thing the under-sized Bulldogs have to a true center.

"Her skill level has gone up several levels from where it was at this time last year," Nerelli said. "She really put in the work on her game last spring and summer."

Gudeman said she was a four-year starter at Brown County High School in Nashville, Indiana, from where she graduated in 2012. After not playing the game competitively for six-plus years, "It took me five months to fully adjust," to playing at the junior college level, Gudeman said.

"Besides trying to get my skills back up, one, all of the girls on the team except for me were local and, two, they were already in the flow when I was just getting started."

The Air Force veteran said, "It took until our first conference game last year for me to get my confidence up."

Nerelli said, "With the leadership Sarah has acquired from her years in the Air Force, the other girls on the team really respect her."

Things are breaking Gudeman's way now. It hasn't always been that way since she left Nashville, a small community that is nonetheless the center of the Brown County Art Colony.

Gudeman went straight into the Air Force after high school. "I was stationed in Mississippi for seven months and then was at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California (Marysville) from 2013-17," she said.

"I was hoping to do 20 years in the Air Force. I did network communication there and I really loved the work."

Gudeman started having medical trouble in 2015. "When I get stressed out, the blood will stop circulating to my hands and feet, and they can turn blue," she said.

"It had never even cropped up before then. (Doctors) thought it was an auto-immune system problem. Then I was diagnosed with Raynaud's disease."

The rare disorder causes narrowing of the blood vessels when one is feeling cold or stressed. Blood can't get to the skin surface and the affected areas may turn white or blue -- precisely what was happening to Gudeman.

"It was just crappy luck," she said. "I medically retired from the Air Force in 2017."

When Gudeman first came to the area, she said, she attended Santa Barbara City College. "I loved the school, but it was quite a drive up there," she said. Thus, she wound up at Hancock.

Though Gudeman had to medically retire from the Air Force, she did get her career inspiration from there.

"I want to be a PE teacher," she said. "When I was in the Air Force I helped airmen in my squadron who had failed the (physical training) test get ready for the next one, and I really enjoyed doing that."

Nerelli is certain Gudeman's basketball career will not end at Hancock. "She'll play at the next level," he said.

"She's already gotten offers from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Westcliff University down in Irvine and McPherson College in Kansas."

Gudeman said Fort Kent is the leading candidate for her so far. Though, with her medical condition, she said she often wears gloves and "I really have to watch it if the temperature gets under 60 degrees," she's confident she can handle Maine winters.

"I don't have to take medication," she said.

When it comes to Gudeman, Nerelli has one regret.

"I should have red-shirted her in 2018," he said wistfully. "Then I would have had another season with her."

Kenny Cress

Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000.

BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona.

BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.





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