HICKORY, NC — After a stellar high school career playing for Colfax High School, Jenni Gust headed south four years ago to showcase her basketball talents at Division II Lenoir Rhyne University in Hickory, NC.
Gust showed the southerners there was some pretty good talent coming from up north by being named to the All South Atlantic Conference Team both her junior and senior years and was a big reason the Bears made it to the Southeast regional tournament her sophomore and junior years. Gust came up with her career high in the scoring department on her Senior Day (with her parents in the stands), scoring 27 points with five assists and six rebounds in a 82-76 win over Mars Hills. In her final game, a loss in the semi-finals of the conference tournament to Newberry, Gust scored a team high 15 points. Her teammate, Jazmine Charles was the leading scorer for the Bears the past two seasons and was named an All American, along with setting the school record in three point shots.
For those of you who wonder how Gust ended up playing in North Carolina, you need to look no further than her coach Katie Pate. As Gust’s assistant coach for three years with the Bears and her head coach this year, Pate is a graduate of Hayward High School and played a lot of AAU ball in and around Colfax in her younger days. After playing college ball down south and deciding to go into coaching, Pate kept an eye on players around the area through AAU and high school competition, and had Gust on her radar for a couple of years.
“After watching Jenni play several times, I knew she could be a special player,” Pate said. “We offered her a scholarship because we thought she would be a good fit in our program. I knew it would be hard for her to be a long way from home, but I told her to embrace the opportunity to come from a small town in the midwest into a new environment and meet people from a different part of the country. She came to us wiry thin and played a guard spot for three years, then really blossomed her junior year. We moved her to a forward spot this year and she had a great season. For kids who were starters throughout high school, it can be hard to sit on the bench but Jenni was very patient her first two years. She knew her role and worked her way into the starting lineup on a regular basis as a junior. She was very coachable and learned how to read defenses quickly. And she became a great mentor and leader. We had a new player transfer to us in December who was in the same major as Jenni and she took her under her wing to make her feel comfortable with our school and program. We wish her the best of luck and we know she will be successful,” she added.
The Bears finished 12-16 this year and 10-12 in conference play after a 24-7 overall record and 17-5 conference record her junior year.
“We lost a lot of players through graduation and had a pretty young team which included eight freshmen this year,” Gust said. “It took a while to get used to each other but we improved as the season went on.”
Gust played in 110 games for the Bears and started 58 of them. She totaled 942 points in her career with 384 this year and 388 as a junior, placing her second on the team both years. She knocked down 161 of 197 free throw attempts for 81%, and shot 33% from behind the arc on 57 of 172 shooting. She added 104 assists and collected 346 rebounds with 156 as a junior. On the defensive side, Gust tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 16 as a senior and finished with 45 for her career, and stole the ball 62 times including 26 this year which was second for the team.
“It was a great four years for me,” Gust said. “It took a while to adjust to not playing all the time when I first came in as a freshman, but we had a good team that year. I also had to adjust to the long bus rides to games and just learning about the area and the conference. But I fell in love with the area and school right away and have no regrets about staying down here. I would recommend playing a college sport to anyone but they need to know you really have to have a passion for the sport and realize it is really hard on your body. But I have met so many great people and learned so much, not just about basketball but about being on my own. I will graduate in May with a degree in Studio Art and would like to stay in the North Carolina area if possible. But I will move if I have to,” she concluded.