EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this story originally appeared in the December issue of Buckshot The Magazine, available for free on newsstands throughout the Chippewa Valley. Look for the January issue beginning Thursday, Jan. 18.
As Ambree Schlosser sat in the stands and watched the Durand girls basketball team beat Baldwin-Woodville on Nov. 21, she couldn’t help but notice how surreal the situation felt.
Even though she’d just scored 39 in points in her previous two games at Viterbo University, it was still hard for Schlosser to grasp the idea that she’s not in high school anymore, that she’s not the one leading the Panthers to wins anymore and that she’s playing college basketball now.
It has been just 10 months since Schlosser, the fourth-leading scorer in the tradition-rich history of Durand girls hoops, was playing in the state tournament. But that’s what’s surreal for Viterbo coach Bobbi Vandenberg too.
Schlosser, Viterbo’s starting point guard and second-leading scorer, doesn’t seem like a freshman. Vandenberg expected the quick, athletic playmaker to contribute right away, but not like she has so far this season.
“She’s kind of taken it to a level higher than what I expected,” Vandenberg said. “She picks things up very quickly and has a great understanding of basketball. She’s very mature, not just for a freshman, but just for a college student. She really handles things like your ideal point guard.”
Vandenberg first heard about Schlosser from Durand coach Lionel Jones and was intrigued enough to make the trip north from La Crosse to recruit a girl that was known as a dynamic scorer. But when Vandenberg saw Schlosser on the court, it was other aspects of her game that stood out.
“I loved how she defended and saw the floor,” Vandenberg said. “She has great court vision. That has to do not only with Ambree and her personality and her skills but also coach Jones. I thought she had tremendous coaching at Durand.”
After Schlosser finished up her decorated high school career, which ended with her being selected as an all-state first teamer, she decided her next step would be Viterbo, in large part because of its nursing program but also because of the fit she saw on the basketball team.
Schlosser isn’t very tall. At 5-foot-4, she operates best in an up-tempo system that allows her to use her speed and athleticism, and that’s exactly what she gets to do at Viterbo.
“It’s a very similar style of play as high school,” Schlosser said. “We’re fast, athletic but don’t have that size component. We’re still looking for that run-and-gun type of play. Pushing the ball and distributing is a pretty high goal for me as a point guard.”
She’s doing that pretty well. She leads the team with 31 assists. Add in the 10.2 points per game, and the result is a pretty good offensive player. The other end of the floor, though, is where Vandenberg values her the most. She leads the team with 31 steals and quickly has become the team’s go-to defender.
“She’s a very reliable defender, and we can match her up with very good guards,” Vandenberg said. “She definitely holds her own against older, more experienced, really good guards. Her defensive abilities are probably what have put her on the floor first and foremost.”
Offensively, Schlosser is still adapting. With her height disadvantage, she’s still figuring out ways to get off shots from different parts of the floor against defenders who are bigger, faster and stronger than the ones she faced in the Dunn-St. Croix. As a result, her terrific perimeter shooting in high school hasn’t translated to the college level. She’s shooting just 20.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“That’s going to come. I’m not worried about it,” Vandenberg said. “It’s just going to take time to adjust to the pace of the college game to get her shot off a little quicker. She does get to the basket really well, even against good college players.”
Her speed and athleticism are always going to be her biggest strengths. Those plus her ball-handling skills make it easy to get by most opponents, and she usually figures out a way to finish, even if it’s a little different than the way she’s done it in the past.
“Going up against bigger players, I have to be smarter with my drives,” Schlosser said. “I’ve definitely had to adjust my game in the paint. In high school, I could kind of just go on in. Now I need to jump-stop, gather myself to avoid getting blocked.”
With her pull-up game — a lethal part of her arsenal in high school — working well, Schlosser has the makings of a top-notch scorer. Once she starts hitting from outside, Vandenberg sees her being a big matchup problem for defenders in the North Star Athletic Association. And her abilities as a distributor, defender and leader should make her the type of all-around player that Vandenberg can build her young team around.
“She’s very steady, and her mentality is extremely consistent,” Vandenberg said. “She never changes her expression, and she’s all business. You have to love that in a point guard. She’s been really a delight to have, because I feel like I’ve already been able to connect with her in terms of her being that coach on the floor. That’s extremely rare as a freshman. It’s fun to know that I’m going to have her for the next four years.”
Schlosser isn’t the only player from the area that Vandenberg has recruited to Viterbo. Sophomore Alyssa Nilssen, a Baldwin-Woodville graduate, is the team’s leading scorer with 11.5 per game. Then there’s freshman Hannah Anderson, a Regis product. Anderson, who was a first-team Leader-Telegram All-Northwest selection along with Schlosser last year, missed time early this season with a broken nose and a concussion. She’s averaging 6.5 points per game in limited action.
“Hannah is another kid in that same class that we’re definitely going to build around,” Vandenberg said. “She’s a talented kid, and now that she’s back, she’s already starting to blossom again.”
Jones, also a coach for Wisconsin Playmakers, is a big reason why Vandenberg has established and maintained a connection to high school basketball in northwest Wisconsin. North senior Brook Becker already has committed to play for Viterbo, and Vandenberg isn’t planning on stopping with her.
“We’d love to steal a few more kids from that area for sure,” Vandenberg said. “A lot of good basketball up there.”