Kelly Schumacher turned in one of the great individual performances in UConn women’s basketball Final Four history when the 6-foot-5 center blocked nine shots in the 2000 national championship game victory over Tennessee.
That could have been enough to satisfy her. It wasn’t.
She was the first-round pick of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever in 2001, the start of a nine-year pro career that took her to New York, Phoenix and Detroit, where she played for two league champions.
That could have been enough to satisfy her. It wasn’t.
Schumacher is chasing goals that alternately take her from the beach to the catwalk.
She wants to make the U.S. Olympic volleyball team for Rio De Janiero in 2016. Only four players will make the team. Right now there are 12 on the U.S. team and Schumacher, 35, is not one of them. She is considered an Olympic long shot in part because she started volleyball so late. Still, she has made strides on the domestic volleyball circuit. And don’t tell her she won’t make it.
“I believe it is a realistic goal. I am the tallest player on the USA Tour. And I have the mobility of smaller players,” she said.
Schumacher also has done some modeling and would like to do more.
“I’ve always been asked if I was interested in modeling,” Schumacher said. “Agents have always approached me, asked me how tall I was, tell me I had an interesting look.”
Schumacher’s love of volleyball preceded her time at UConn. She considered signing with Duke since the Blue Devils would have allowed her to compete in both sports.
But UConn’s burgeoning program was foremost in her mind and demanded her full attention. She only played volleyball recreationally when she was on break at home in Cincinncati.
In 2006, she moved to Miami, a place she said she fell in love with during her time traveling there to play with UConn and the WNBA.
“Even then, volleyball was always an equal love,” Schumacher said. “But I’d only have a week or so to play because I was overseas [playing basketball]. But when I was actually in Miami, I didn’t touch a basketball, although I didn’t tell anyone that at the time.”
She gravitated to the beach front along 8th Street and Ocean Drive, where serious beach volleyball was played. One of athletes turned out to be former Notre Dame center Ruth Riley, the former national player of the year for the 2001 national champions who is still playing in the WNBA.
“No, we weren’t very friendly in college,” said Riley, laughing. “We basically were just trying to block each other’s shot at that point in our lives. We never had the chance to know [how similar we were]. To be honest, there were not a lot of casual conversations about things between UConn and Notre Dame players.
“But we both moved to Miami, we met and discovered we love to play beach volleyball.”
Local pro Bonnie Levin introduced Schumacher to the professional side of the sport. Since there wasn’t a lot of serious pro volleyball in Florida, Schumacher moved to California and contacted veteran coach Lynn Masikayck, who agreed to coach her.
“I’d say my volleyball career didn’t evolve as much as I pursued it,” Schumacher said. “I remember telling numerous basketball teammates that one day I was going to retire and play on the beach. And they would laugh about it.”
Schumacher last played in the WNBA in 2009. In 2010, she began entering the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour events, having to come through qualifying rounds.
It wasn’t long before she experienced something akin to a 16th seed playing UConn in the NCAA Tournament.
“My first season , Kerry Walsh Jennings [the Olympic gold medalist] was out after having her second child,” Schumacher said. “So Misty May-Treanor [Walsh's partner] was playing with Nicole Branagh.
“My team was the 32 seed that day. We lost. But we scored 19 points in the second set.”
By August 2012, Schumacher’s ranking was Top 20, but the AVP ceased operations for financial reasons, leaving U.S. beach volleyball teams looking for places to play.
“It’s a very tough time right now for all beach volleyball players,” said B.J. Hoeptner Evans, a spokesman for USA Volleyball. “It’s very hard to find domestic competition right now. There are a few tours going, but there isn’t really a spot for up-and-coming players like Kelly to make their way. But she is working hard and is making the effort.”
It’s just that it probably won’t lead to her ultimate goal — a berth on the Olympic team.
“Her inexperience, in comparison to the others, and the fact she would be 38 by 2016, would likely work against her chances,” Hoeptner Evans said.
In the 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. sent two teams, with Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor winning the gold, beating April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in an all-American final. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to return.
In 2011 and 2012, with various partners, Schumacher played in 23 pro events within sponsored tours. She placed in the Top 10 eight times, the Top 5 four times. Her highest finish was a third in an International Development Qualifier Tour event. That enabled her to play internationally in 2011 where her team won a bronze medal in Mexico.
“She can be very successful domestically,” Hoeptner Evans said. I don’t want to count her out internationally, but she did have a late start.”
Schumacher is also getting a late start in modeling, but has picked up some work.
One of her friends, Julie Henderson, a model, helped her devise strategies to get noticed. She hooked Schumacher up with a photographer to do test shots.
That led to a chance to work with agencies modeling athletic gear. And while doing work with Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce recently, which was running a fashion event, Schumacher got a spot modeling a bikini.
“It was the first time I ever walked the runway,” she said.
But Schumacher’s priority now is volleyball.
At the end of the 2012 season, Schumacher and her husband of three years, former Navy Seal Donald Raimon, moved back to Miami after a 2 ½-year stay in California. She has been training with a veteran player, Gretchen Duffner-Hand, and two have combined for first- and third-place finishes in local events. Still, Schumacher does not know who will be her partner this season or when and where she’ll exactly be playing.
Riley, who will play for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky this season, competed casually with Schumacher before recently leaving for WNBA training camp.
“I know exactly how competitive she is and how committed to training she is to be able to play at a high level,” Riley said. “She did it at UConn and in the WNBA and she has taken the same approach with beach volleyball.”