Kenai long-range shooter fun to talk to, hard to guard

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Ask anyone, and they'll tell you how pleasant it is to be around Kenai senior Cory Hershberger.

Anyone, that is, who is not charged with keeping her from raining 3-pointers or driving a soccer ball into the back of the net.

"She got the type of personality you love to have on a team," said Kenai girls soccer coach Dan VerKuilen. "She's really outgoing and keeps things lively, but she's also really competitive.

"She knows when it's time to get to work."

Thus it is that at one moment in Kenai's basketball practice, Hershberger can be seen playfully coming up from behind Kenai coach Jim Beeson and throwing a body check.

The next moment, she senses a lull in the practice and comes in first as the team runs lines, even though she is definitely not the swiftest Kard in the deck.

"(Beeson) told me I set the pace at practice," Hershberger said. "When I slack off, the team slacks off."

Hershberger, who played her last high school basketball game Saturday when a 36-26 Palmer victory kept the Kards from state, was tabbed as gifted on the hard court as early as second grade.

"Her physical education teacher back in second grade came to me and said she could out-dribble anybody at K-Beach (Elementary) School," said Pam Hershberger, who is Cory's mom. "I didn't realize she had that talent."

Thus began a level of parental involvement that would include Pam only missing three games -- home or away -- in Cory's four-year high school basketball career.

Pam also coached Cory's Boys and Girls Club teams from the fifth grade to high school, getting help from her husband, Gary, when his week on, week off schedule at Phillips Petroleum allowed him to attend practices and games.

Maybe it was because the Hershbergers knew how valuable their daughter was because when Cory was 3 months old, she contracted spinal meningitis and hung on for life in a situation her mother described as "touch and go."

Or maybe it was because Pam, the owner of Reads Primary School, looks at athletics as an invaluable tool for motivating kids to achieve in the classroom and stay on the straight and narrow.

"We're not only going to miss Cory, we're going to miss her mom," coach Beeson said. "She's a lot like me. She likes to go out and get it done as far as raising money goes."

Cory Hershberger

In Athletics

Was the leading scorer on Kenai's basketball team, which finished with a 20-6 record this season

Was one of the top scorers on the Kardinals soccer team last season

Also participated in Volleyball, cross country and swimming for Kenai.

In School

Has a 3.7 cumulative grade point average, including a 4.0 last semester.

Is vice president of Kenai's senior class.

But when it comes to family, Pam is only the start. A glance under the Reads Primary School banner at any Kardinals home game shows a sizable contingent of Hershberger's relatives urging Cory on.

"I've got pretty deep roots in the area," Cory said.

Both her mom and her dad graduated from Kenai in the early 1970s. Gary, who was born in Seward, played some basketball for the Kards. Pam didn't get the chance because there was no girls basketball at the time.

"I'm 100 percent daddy's girl," Hershberger said. "He doesn't really ride my case, he just does what he can to encourage me.

"He's really quiet and easygoing. I think he just figures I can do it."

Then there's Cory's brother Casey, a 1997 graduate at Kenai who, through football and basketball, set a standard for Cory to follow.

"I look up to him," said Hershberger of her brother, who is attending college in the Lower 48. "He was a really big football star. He always got his name in the paper.

"I couldn't play football, so I always said, 'That's going to be me in basketball.'"

Beeson, who coached Casey in both football and basketball, constantly asked Cory why she couldn't work as hard as Casey.

"We were always teasing her about that," the coach said. "Her brother, to her brother's credit, worked very, very hard. But in her senior year, she worked just as hard as her brother did."

Casey also served as a filter when it came to Cory's dating interests.

"He was a senior when I was a freshman, and I couldn't do anything when I was a freshman," Hershberger said. "There were some of my boyfriends that he didn't like, so he got rid of them.

"Looking back, I'm kind of glad he did."

All of Cory's grandparents still live in the area. Pam has a brother and two sisters in the area, while Gary has two brothers and a sister that call the peninsula home. Of course, all those aunts and uncles mean Cory also has about 15 cousins around.

She even had a cheering section of 11 family members up at the Region III/4A basketball tournament in Palmer this past weekend.

"Casey and Cory always had their own rooting sections," Pam said. "At her brother's graduation, we took up two auditorium rows.

"I've already began asking for extra tickets for Cory's graduation."

Those family members watched Cory mature from a player who was only a scorer to an all-around leader in her four-year varsity career.

"I used to be pretty much a strictly offensive player," Hershberger said. "All I ever wanted to do was play offense. I would always guard the other team's worst player."

This season, Hershberger made a commitment to defense. That commitment started before the season, when she ran cross country for the first time to get in shape for basketball.

"It's a lot easier to play both sides of the court now," Hershberger said. "I don't get as tired. I used to worry I wouldn't have enough energy left to play offense."

An example of how much Hershberger's shooting meant to Kenai came in a semifinal overtime loss to Wasilla. Kenai was trailing 20-14 in the third quarter before Hershberger hit four treys to lead Kenai on a 15-2 spurt.

"She was pretty much our only scorer," said Beeson, whose team finished 20-6. "The fact that so much of the scoring burden was placed on her and she responded the way she did is impressive."

Hershberger will now shift her focus to putting soccer balls, and not basketballs, in the net, before heading off to college next year.

The senior got a 4.0 in the classroom last semester, and has a 3.7 cumulative average. She also is in choir, is the vice president of the senior class, is involved in National Honors Society and does community service through the Interact Club.

Hershberger would like to play basketball, and maybe soccer, at an NCAA Division II school next season.

"It was a pleasure working with her," Beeson said. "She's got a personality type where you can't help but like her."

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