COLUMBIA – Since Rachel Oswald was young, she always wanted to play college basketball in Columbia. Now she can say that she played the game at two different Columbia schools.
After playing one season as a walk-on for the MU women’s basketball team, Oswald transferred to Columbia College and accepted a full athletic scholarship to play for the Cougars.
During her senior year at Boonville High School, Oswald announced that she was going to walk on the MU women’s basketball team for the 2005-06 season. She had been offered scholarships at four other schools, but to play at the Division I level meant too much to her to turn down the opportunity.
“I had a bunch of Boonville fans there and they were all cheering,” Oswald said. “It was just exciting because it’s what you worked for, just to be out there on that big D-I court playing the game.”
But the chance of her lifetime didn’t live up to expectations. In Oswald’s freshman year, she played a total of 14 minutes in four games, scoring three points.
The following season, the Tigers increased the team’s roster from 14 to 16 players. Since NCAA regulations allow only 15 girls to dress out for road games, Oswald was going to be left behind on the road trips, and sitting on the bench for the home games.
Reality had finally sunk in. Basketball wasn’t fun for Oswald anymore. Being able to only participate in practices wasn’t what she had in mind.
“I lost a lot of confidence,” Oswald said. “I didn’t really want to be there, so I talked it over with my parents and told them I wasn’t happy and they understood. I went in and told coach (Cindy) Stein that I didn’t feel like she needed me.”
Oswald said she wasn’t sure if she was going to play college basketball again.
Enter Columbia College women’s basketball coach Mike Davis.
Davis was Oswald’s former coach in previous summers on the Missouri Showtyme, a team put together of mid-Missouri high school girls’ basketball players. Davis heard that Oswald was not going to continue playing for the Tigers, so in September 2006 he called her and said that there was one scholarship open at that time with the Cougars.
“We talked and visited, and the question I always ask everyone if they have not had a great experience is, ‘Hey, do you still have a fire in your belly and still want to play?’” Davis said.
After some deliberation, Oswald decided to take a second chance at basketball. Although it was too late for her to play with the Cougars for the 2006-07 season, she could transfer after the fall semester and still work out with them.
“I went and visited with him and watched the girls play,” Oswald said. “I did miss playing, and I decided right at Thanksgiving that I was going to go ahead and play. I went in the day after Christmas, we had practice and I just started practicing with the girls.”
When Oswald transferred to Columbia College in January, she was able to practice with the Cougars and travel with the team to its games, dressing out in a sweat suit.
“It was very hard at first,” Oswald said. “I was very, very out of shape, I’m not going to lie.”
Davis said he felt the extra semester of preparation helped Oswald get to where she needed to be on the team, adjusting to a different style of play from Division I to the NAIA.
“It really gave her a leg up to be ready to go and to be a part of this team this year,” Davis said. “Her transition has just been effortlessly into the flow of things.”
In her first season with the Cougars, Oswald is already an impact player as the starting forward. She recorded a double-double in her first game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, similar to the numbers she achieved in high school.
“She’s played some good basketball, and, at the same time, I say that I don’t think we’ve seen her best basketball yet,” Davis said. “I think that’s still ahead of her, and I think the competition she’s seeing right now is only going to help her. She’s going to have a great career here.”
Cougars’ sophomore Whitney Widaman, a fellow teammate of Oswald on the Missouri Showtyme, said that Oswald fits very well with the team chemistry.
“She’s a very good post player, but she’s also a good outside shooter,” Widaman said. “If you give her the ball, no matter what, she’s probably going to score for you.”
Although Oswald is considered to be a sophomore because she used one year of athletic eligibility with the Tigers, her college credit hours enable her to be a junior academically. While Columbia College doesn’t offer a graduate program to fit Oswald’s psychology major, she has considered becoming a dual major in psychology and biology. The switch will allow her to extend her graduation date another year, which will let her fulfill the remaining three years of eligibility with the Cougars’ basketball team.
“(Coach Davis) likes us to take 15 hours, but I’m already taking my upper level classes, so I’ll probably have to double major or minor,” Oswald said.
It proves how much confidence Oswald has gained. One year ago, she didn’t know if she was ever going put on a No. 32 jersey again. Now she has a renewed enthusiasm for the game and will continue to wear the No. 32, but this time with navy blue and silver colors.