By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
YAKIMA — Whether on the microphone in front of hundreds of fellow students as an ASB officer at assemblies, cheering on her younger teammates at away games, as an active DECA business club member or hounding opposition ball handlers at the top of Port Angeles’ 1-3-1 zone defense, Roughriders’ senior Cheyenne Wheeler follows her passions.
“She’s passionate and plays with that kind of lack of fear, a joyous abandonment to the moment,” Port Angeles girls basketball coach Michael Poindexter said. “She’s going to try and make something happen and never sit back and be afraid of something.
“[She cares], and I’ve talked to some community college coaches and that’s one of the first things I talk about is her leadership. She’s been in leadership all four years, she does a great job at assemblies in trying to include all kids. Her election as homecoming queen is an indication of how much kids respect her caring for everyone.
“When we go to team camp she tries to set a tone for the younger players, here’s how we have fun, here’s what we value, and that week is very important for us, it’s vital, and she really embraces being a leader and working with younger players.”
Poindexter said he remembers the team’s trip to Bremerton earlier this season.
“She sits in the stands as a varsity player with other kids doing homework or with their headphones on, and she was enthusiastic, cheering on the C team and being a fan and caring for whoever in our program is just learning the game.”
That passion is displayed a little differently on the basketball court, where Wheeler is second on the team in scoring at 7.1 points per game entering the state regional round and also averages four rebounds and 2.39 steals.
“She has a much-different persona on and off the floor,” Poindexter said. “Against the opposition, there’s a certain intensity, and that goes for all of us. I’m more intense on the sidelines than in English class and she’s a little different in assembly on the mic than she is on the floor. It’s all one aspect of her personality, it just displays differently.”
Wheeler said that she’s learned “there are times to be goofy and to have fun, and there are times to flip that switch and get into game mode. “But I really don’t like losing. I want to do my part for the team, I know everybody does their part and I want to help contribute.”
Both coach and player acknowledge the leaps she’s made in four seasons as a Roughrider.
“Cheyenne has grown a lot with us in four years,” Poindexter said. “She’s not the same player. She really understands the game well and has really progressed every year in terms of decision making.”
Wheeler said she knows she has grown and matured as a player.
“I try not to get as mad, I try to encourage our younger players, I want them to know they are good players and they shouldn’t feel pressure over every little thing because I’ve been there. And its just nice to have an older player help you out.”
Wheeler succeeds offensively by cutting to the rim, moving around defenders to get close looks at the basket.
“You see it from a fan’s perspective and you think of Chey slashing through a defense, her ability to get past two staggered defenders,” Poindexter said. “She’s an extremely graceful player inside at times. Every team knows its coming, anybody who scouts us knows what she does, but that’s the mark of a kid who is doing the right thing — they know its coming and they still can’t stop it.”
Wheeler thinks repetition has helped her game grow.
“I think it’s just experience from previous years, being able to weave through defenders, know when to put more on or less, whether to use the glass,” she said.
Fellow senior Natalie Steinman is impressed by Wheeler’s trickery against opposing defenses and the chatter she brings to the court.
“Cheyenne can dribble through anything,” Steinman said. “She’s very good at deceiving the defense.
“On the court you’ll see her talking constantly, talking to the younger players and that’s something we need — that communication.”
The younger sister of Port Angeles standout and current Lower Columbia basketball/softball player Nizhoni Wheeler, Cheyenne has always played her own individual style. But she has taken lessons from Nizhoni’s game.
“My sister did have a lot of input into my game with passing, pressing in our 1-3-1 [zone], in how to play in transition,” she said.
On defense, Wheeler stands guard at the top when the Riders’ employ their effective 1-3-1 zone.
“She has really improved by not gambling quite so much, but being a presence in the area and really being steady,” Poindexter said.
In the 1-3-1 she is great at leading where to go on the court, where to give people problems. It’s not all-out aggressive and swarming, it’s laying back, causing some ball movement and knowing when to attack aggressively. She just doesn’t do too much and as a result she’s trouble for teams at the top of the 1-3-1.
“I think her soccer game and her basketball game feed each other in terms of defensive expectations, footwork and space. I think there’s a lot to be said for a good soccer defender becoming a good basketball player and generally our best defenders have been soccer players and Cheyenne has really carried that over.”
An intangible that Wheeler has helped to carry over from Port Angeles girls soccer’s run to the state quarterfinals is chemistry.
“We all get along really well, team chemistry has a big effect on teams, we learned that in soccer and this year we’ve enjoyed it.
“And it’s fun winning, I love winning.”