Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH — Signing early with a Division I program takes a great deal of hard work and dedication both on and off the court.
That’s in addition to displaying a winning attitude in all facets of life.
As a standout 6-foot-4 post player who truly fits the definition of a gentle giant, Katie Dettwiller’s play on the court, along with her character off it, allowed the Notre Dame senior to develop into a highly-coveted basketball recruit, both as a student and as an athlete.
On Tuesday morning, Dettwiller enjoyed the fruits of her labor when the senior signed to play with the Saint Francis (Pa.) Red Flash on Nov. 20 in a signing ceremony that was held at Notre Dame High School in front of friends, family, and teammates.
For Dettwiller, the opportunity to obtain a Division I scholarship in the sport she loves most is the thrill of a lifetime.
“It’s super exciting,” Dettwiller said. “It’s kind of bittersweet at the same time because you’ve been working almost your whole life for this moment, and all of the time during the summer that’s spent talking to these people. It’s simply an amazing feeling … just for me, my school, my team, and my family. It’s absolutely amazing.”
For Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie, the accomplishment of a special achievement that less than one percent of the general population ever earns is a testament to the hard work put in by Dettwiller. McKenzie said that if character were to be graded, Dettwiller is in the highest percentile possible.
“I’m excited for her and all of the hard work that she’s put in to reap the rewards of it at the Division I level,” McKenzie said. “There’s not a more deserving girl out there. The great person that she is as a person, not just as a basketball player to go along with that, just makes her very special. I really don’t think there is a more deserving girl out there to be able to accomplish what she’s accomplished so far.”
Over the course of her high school career, Dettwiller’s work ethic has been nothing short of exceptional.
Need proof? Just look at the numbers.
In her first season as a starter for Notre Dame, Dettwiller posted an average of 8.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game, on 66 percent shooting, as a sophomore.
Those numbers underwent a dramatic increase during Dettwiller’s junior year.
She arguably transformed into the Titans’ best offensive and defensive weapon, as evidenced by her 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 4.9 blocks per contest on a staggering 76 percent shooting mark from the field.
As strong as her offensive numbers are, however, it’s Dettwiller’s ability to protect the rim, without getting into foul trouble, that really aids Notre Dame to run and press, in the frenetic manner that it does.
“She’s been very disciplined defensively,” McKenzie said. “At 6-4, that’s something that we talked about when she was very young. People are going to try to get you in foul trouble, and we need you on the floor. We talked about the ability to change shots — not necessarily having to block everything that is put up. I can count on one hand the amount of times that she’s been in foul trouble over the last three seasons. That’s huge for us.”
The gains that Dettwiller has made on the basketball court, however, are equaled by the improvements made in her second sport — volleyball.
As an effective middle hitter, Dettwiller improved her total kills and attack percentages in each and every season she played the sport of volleyball.
That’s evidenced by her 219 kills and .395 attack percentage as a junior to her 404 kills and .452 attack percentage output this past fall. She was a first-team all-district honoree in both sports in 2018, a second-team Division IV All-Ohio honoree in basketball and an honorable mention Division IV All-Ohio honoree this past fall.
And, as one can imagine, Dettwiller’s improvement comes from her ability to listen.
“A dream,” McKenzie said of coaching Dettwiller. “She’s the athlete that, quoting the old cliche, would run through a wall for you. You tell her once, and she does it. You don’t have to reiterate that point over and over and over again. She’s just a super-coachable kid, a super-likable kid, and a great person.”
The success that Notre Dame’s girls basketball and volleyball programs have had certainly indicate Dettwiller’s humble attitude — a more of a lead-by-example approach — certainly works, and works outstandingly well.
Over the past two seasons, the Titans have experienced success that is, simply put, historical for the school in both sports.
In volleyball, Notre Dame finished Dettwiller’s final two seasons with a 42-12 overall record including the school’s first two regional final appearances. On the hardwood, the Titans have went 48-3 overall over the last two years, a mark that includes the school’s first Division IV district championship and a 25-1 overall mark last season.
“It’s amazing,” Dettwiller said of the success. “I couldn’t ask for anything more during my high school career. It’s been absolutely amazing for us, as a team and for our school, to transform the girls basketball and volleyball programs at Notre Dame forever. Our coaches and their staffs are both wonderful. All of the time and everything that they’ve put into us girls is pretty great.”
Much of that success, however, comes from Notre Dame’s chemistry off the court.
While Dettwiller is a multi-sport standout, she’s far from the only one as Ava Hassel, Sophia Hassel, Clara Hash, Cassie Schaefer, Taylor Schmidt, Chloe Delabar, Olivia Smith, Joyce Zheng, and Dettwiller’s sister, Claire, all play basketball and volleyball alongside Dettwiller.
And in the case of Schaefer, Schmidt, Ava Hassel, and Claire Dettwiller, playing sports competitively together is essentially a year-round deal as the quartet also play softball.
“I believe I have more memories with my team than I have with my own family most of the time,” Dettwiller said. “We spend more time together. However, I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. It’s made my experience something that I will never forget.”
With a laundry list of offers that included Cleveland State, Detroit, and Presbyterian, it was clear that Dettwiller certainly had a tough decision to make.
Ultimately, the offer from the Red Flash proved to be too good to turn down — and when one looks at the gains that the Loretto, Pa.-based women’s basketball program has made over the past several years, it’s easy to see why.
Behind the direction of head coach Joe Haigh, St. Francis has obtained three Northeast Conference Championship berths in his six seasons. In the 2017-18 campaign, the program won the NEC Championship behind a 24-10 overall record and a 16-2 conference mark, which resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth for the Red Flash.
“It’s been absolutely amazing for us, as a team and for our school, to transform the girls basketball and volleyball programs at Notre Dame forever.”Notre Dame’s Katie Dettwiller
St. Francis defeated Cincinnati, Old Dominion, and, in likely the wildest game of all of women’s basketball last season, overcame a 29-point second half deficit to defeat Portland, 106-101, in double overtime.
Beyond the on-court success, however, it was the Catholic faith and environment that Saint Francis provided that truly gave Dettwiller the green light to choose the Red Flash.
“It’s a Catholic school, and that is, 100 percent, the reason why I chose Saint Francis,” Dettwiller said. “I’m very big on my Catholic faith, so that was definitely the main thing that I was looking for when I was in the search for schools. It’s also small, like Notre Dame. Everybody’s an athlete there. It seems like almost the entire student population’s an athlete. And I just love the area and the people, so I’m really excited to get there next year.”
Before getting to Saint Francis, however, there’s unfinished business that Dettwiller and wants to attend to … business that includes Notre Dame getting to a place that it’s never been before.
“Every year, you want to send [seniors] out on the best note with accomplishments they may have not been able to achieve, whatever the case may be,” McKenzie said. “I would love to send Katie out with a state appearance in basketball and going farther than we did last year. She’s well on her way to obtaining 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for a career, but I believe that she would trade everything for that Final Four berth. We’ve got a long way to go, but I believe that our focus and mindset is in the right place right now, team-wise. Katie’s going to be one of the leaders of that.”