Still recovering from car accident, Chloe Guthmiller makes memorable splash in Rockets win over Drake-Anamoose

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
New Rockford-Sheyenne girls basketball defeated Drake-Anamoose, 62-35, on Feb. 1 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School

It's been all about taking "baby steps" for New Rockford-Sheyenne senior Chloe Guthmiller since June 30 at 6 a.m. That morning, she was heading to speed and weight training at the high school when her car veered off the road and into a ditch. 

As soon as she had arrived at the hospital, doctors had told her she was paralyzed from the waist down. From there, she would need surgery as a vertebra in her spine had shattered. Once discharged from the hospital, Guthmiller began taking the process of "baby steps".

"After the surgery, it was just a miracle from there," Guthmiller said. "The feeling in my legs aren't as strong as they used to be, and they said it might not be like that again, but it's about pushing through it and getting there." 

One day she starts using a walker and the next she would move to a cane. A few days later she wouldn't need a walker or a cane and so on. As the months went by, the baby steps became engraved within Guthmiller's athletic life. She's weightlifting again and she has started to take the braces on her feet off when she's active. 

"Taking some of the stuff I have on, off, and going back to my normal self are some of the baby steps I take," Guthmiller said. "That's how I look at it from my perspective." 

The process of baby steps has allowed Guthmiller to get back to games she loves. While basketball is in season, she also plays football, baseball and runs track. Recently, the doctors have cleared her to play baseball and run track in the spring. For basketball, she's been cleared to practice with the Rockets.

On Monday before New Rockford-Sheyenne's game against Drake-Anamoose, which the Rockets won 62-35, Guthmiller took the court with her team for warm-ups for the first time this season. While she shot around with her teammates for a good 10 minutes, the small allotted amount of time had already meant a lot for Guthmiller. There is a little bit of a risk to even shoot around in warm-ups, but Guthmiller is driven to get back to being an all-around athlete.

"I'm willing to take that risk to do what I love and just get back to it," Guthmiller said. "Warming up with the girls is just enough for me. I don't even need to be put in the game for it to be enough for me. Warming up and getting ready with the girls is the greatest experience I could ask for." 

Warm-ups were a special moment for Guthmiller before she got back into the routine of being the Rockets cheerleader on the bench. The cheering is something that has kept her in it and motivated from the gridiron to the hardwood. Anytime a Rocket made a 3, Guthmiller would be up on her feet, throwing up three fingers and cheering. 

With a little under three minutes left in the game and the Rockets up 27, head coach Eliott Belquist emptied the bench. Guthmiller still sat but didn't think it was her time to play yet. However, with 2:10 left in the game and a Raiders turnover stopping play, Belquist would sub Guthmiller into the game. 

"I wasn't sure if he was serious or not," Guthmiller said. "After I got in, I was pretty nervous but pretty excited at the same time. When he called me up I didn't feel too ready because I was afraid of my legs giving out, but I felt better when I got out on the floor."

The Rockets bench and the student section, mostly made up of boys basketball players and Guthmiller's teammates on the baseball team rose to their feet and got loud. In her second possession, she would let a shot rip from deep before it would airball out of bounds. She laughed with the bench and back-peddled the other way. 

Another drive down the court, she would fire from deep again but from the opposite side of the arc, only for the ball to roll around the rim and bounce off the backboard out. That's when everyone started to get into it. When she was heavily guarded, the students were telling her to shoot. When anyone else had the ball on the court, everyone was yelling to give it to Chloe. 

As the clock ticked into the final seconds of the game, a Rockets blowout was starting to feel more like a game coming down to one possession. With 43 seconds in the game, junior Kennedy Demester would swing the ball to Guthmiller at the top of the arc. With her teammate eighth grader Kaiya O'Connor screening her from a Raiders defender, she launched it.

Off the back of the inside rim...splash.  

"I wanted to drop down on that court and start crying," Guthmiller said. "But I kept it in and celebrated with my team and everyone in the stands. Just feeling that again of being able to shoot it, make it, and hear that crowd, was the best thing about senior year so far." 

The entire bench was on their feet, Guthmiller's mother was in the stands with her arms outstretched, Rockets boys basketball center Evan Ulrich was standing up, leaning back and screaming into the air. Everyone in the gym has supported Guthmiller over the past few months, helping her out in practice if she couldn't do something or even just asking how she was doing. As her shot fell, they all celebrated as if they had made it too. 

"She's a great teammate and is great with all her classmates, and she's just a happy person," Belquist said. "She brings out a smile on everyone. To see her come in at that moment and do that is just electrifying. Nothing better than that." 

It was a moment that tugged at heartstrings all over the New Rockford-Sheyenne community, but if there was anyone on the court who felt emotions as strong as Guthmiller, it was her mother. After the game, Guthmiller met her mother in the stands and the two embraced each other. Guthmiller knew that if she scored, or even played, her mom was going to be emotional. 

"I knew she would've been crying and I knew how excited she would've been if I got on that court," Guthmiller said. "Doing things I thought I wasn't going to be able to do after that accident are very emotional to her. Seeing me come back to almost normal is almost as great to her." 

In the team aspect, Guthmiller's 3-ball was the cherry on top of a game that allowed the Rockets to exercise their offense and adjust to a different style of defense. Senior Dani Bjerke led the with 17 points, off of three 3's. She was followed by senior Cassie Longnecker with 11. In having a big win with big moments, the confidence is building for New Rockford-Sheyenne. 

"It's taken us a while to click with everything after losing Hannah Haley, and it's getting better as we go," Belquist said. "The biggest thing is that the girls need confidence and I saw that tonight. They were shooting a lot and weren't afraid to do it. I think in a couple of weeks here we'll be a tough out for a team."

With their district schedule under their belt, the Rockets are scheduled to face Benson County in quarterfinals. The Wildcats did get the best of the Rockets, however, it wasn't by much, powered by a strong fourth quarter from NR-S. They know it's going to be a challenge, but they know anything can happen come tournament time.

"We know it's a huge task at hand, but it's tournament time," Belquist said. "Anything can happen and you've gotta play well. The team that limits the turnovers and plays the best defense is going to move ahead. Fortunately, we have three games to work on things before we get to them [Benson County]."  

As the gym emptied out Monday night, a handful of boys who were in the stands brought their baseball gloves with and were throwing around the ball. With the Rockets and coaches now gone, there was one player left: Guthmiller, who was walking out of the locker room with her glove on ready to play. 

Sports are what she loves and what she wants to get back to. The car accident and the recovery have been hard on Guthmiller physically and emotionally, but she is committed to get back to that athlete "that does everything". 

"I'm still going to build up that physical strength and get back to my normal self," Guthmiller said. "I know I might not be the same after this accident, but I'm going to try and get there as much as possible. No matter how many mountains I have to go over or valleys I have to go through. It's going to be a long journey, but I'm willing to take that journey."  

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.

New Rockford-Sheyenne 62, Drake-Anamoose 35

New Rockford-Sheyenne - 16, 14, 13, 19 - 62

Drake-Anamoose - 1, 9, 10, 15 - 35 

New Rockford-Sheyenne (7-7, 2-3) -- Bjerke 3 2-4 17, Longnecker 2 4-4 11, Hopfauf 4 0-0 8, Demester 3 2-2 8, Heinz 2 1-1 5, Myhre 2 0-0 4, Belquist 1 1-2 3, O'Connor 0 0-0 3, Guthmiller 0 0-0 3. Totals 17 10-13 62.

Drake-Anamoose (2-10, 1-5) -- Fleschock 4 5-6 13, Hauff 4 1-2 9, Lemer 0 0-0 6, Haze 2 0-0 4, Sieg 0 0-0 3. Totals 10 6-8 35 

3-pointers: New Rockford-Sheynne 6 (Bjerke 3, Longnecker 1, O'Connor 1, Guthmiller 1). Drake-Anamoose 3 (Lemer 2, Sieg 1).