In her first moments playing varsity basketball for Soda Springs, Sadie Gronning air-balled a shot and turned the ball over.
Gronning wasn’t quite ready for the spotlight in that freshman moment, but she was soon after.
Despite the rough start, she became a full-time starter for the Cardinals that season. Starting her sophomore year, Gronning helped guide Soda Springs to three consecutive state championships and a 54-game winning streak.
As a senior in 2019-20, she averaged 19 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, leading the Cardinals to the third of those state titles.
Sadie Gronning is the 2019-20 Idaho State Journal All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Soda Springs head girls basketball coach Wade Schvaneveldt said Gronning is the best player he has coached in his 18-year career, pointing to her top-notch skills and mindset.
“She can have a rough couple minutes and you just can’t rattle her,” Schvaneveldt said. “She’s just constant. She doesn’t show a lot of negative or positive emotions. She just goes out and does her job.”
Gronning capped her Soda career with a 31-point performance in this year’s 2A state title game to help the Cardinals become the first 2A team to three-peat.
So her exit from the high school stage was a lot better than her botched entrance, when she said coach “Schvan” subbed her out “right then and there.”
Asked why she struggled in that first game, she said, “I don’t know. Probably because (Schvaneveldt) didn’t tell me I was starting until after warmups. I didn’t have much time to prepare.”
After her record-setting high school career, Gronning is set to join the College of Southern Idaho basketball team.
She’s thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to a fresh start, but said it will not be the same as playing for her high school team that had her lifelong teammates and a rich history.
Girls basketball is woven into the fabric of Soda Springs. People pack the stands and the Cardinals seemingly have an assembly line of talented players every year.
Right before this year’s state tournament, Gronning was wowed by former Soda Springs girls basketball player Kate White, who spoke at a Cardinals banquet about the uniqueness of being part of Soda’s girls basketball program.
“She was just saying the team is what you have right now, and no matter how much you want another team to be like the one you had, it’s not going to be the same. So cherish it while you have it,” Gronning said. “It’s pretty sad to think about, but I’m pretty thankful for the experience that I had.”
Gronning said Soda Springs succeeds because girls start playing the sport at an early age, with the players on the varsity team as their guiding light.
“We put on camps for these little girls and they look up to us,” Gronning said. “Pretty soon those little girls are in high school and some more little girls look up to them.”
Once the girls become high schoolers and make varsity, they are asked by Schvaneveldt to think of it as becoming owners of the team rather than seeing it as joining a team run by Schvaneveldt.
Gronning welcomed that mentality and knew her team from front to back, able to get a feel of what a teammate would do next after she passed them the ball.
They were synced up with a thirst for success.
“We’ve all been playing together and we’ve always just wanted to win and we’ve always had the winning mindset, even when we were, like, in fifth grade when we were playing all-star games,” Gronning said. “We just had the competitive drive right from the beginning.”
Gronning said she has cherished memories of her team on the hardwood, in hotel rooms and at dinners. Before her junior season, the team participated in an escape room and they beat the game clock by two minutes.
“We would get stumbled a little bit, but we all persevered and put our minds together and seemed to find the right clue at the right time,” Gronning said.
The team didn’t have many close calls like that one on the court in the 2019-20 season, going 25-2 and finishing on a 22-game winning streak, outscoring opponents by 23.6 points per game during that stretch.
A 49-41 semifinal win over Melba was the Cardinals’ closest call in the state tournament. Gronning sunk six consecutive free throws to close out the game. She continued on her free-throw flourish in the title game, making 16 of 20 and not showing the nervousness displayed in her high school opener.
“I’ve definitely become more confident in myself and more relaxed when I play,” Gronning said. “I definitely gained a little more composure going on the court.”
While her confidence has grown, it is like she is back in her first game on the varsity level as college basketball nears.
“I’m just worried about not being good enough,” Gronning said. “I went and watched a few of their games and I’m like, ‘Holy cow. These girls are pretty good. Are they sure they want me to play here?’”
Schvaneveldt doesn’t have any doubts.
“The more pressure you put on her, the better she plays,” Schvaneveldt said. “She rises to the challenge every time.”