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Carol Menken-Schaudt stands out in a crowd, or, perhaps more accurately, she stands above it.

The 6-foot-5 Philomath resident starred for the Oregon State University women’s basketball team for three seasons from 1979-81 before going on to win a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics and playing professionally overseas.

She still gets recognized at Gill Coliseum. People sometimes send their grandkids over for her autograph.

“I’m pretty hard to miss,” Menken-Schaudt said, with a chuckle.

On Saturday, OSU will play in the Sweet 16, and Menken-Schaudt is a huge fan. She pointed to the squad’s depth, where several players could lead the team in scoring or make other vital contributions.

Just as important is the unit’s character, Menken-Schaudt added.

“They’re all excellent students. They’re an example of how you can excel in both the classroom and on the court. You don’t have to sacrifice one to be good at the other,” she said.

And as such, the OSU women’s basketball team is full of role models for girls growing up in the mid-Willamette Valley.

“They’re now out in their driveways pretending that they’re Jamie Weisner or Ruth Hamblin,” Menken-Schaudt said.

Weisner, a senior guard and the Pac-12 Player of the Year, stands out because of her hard-charging style, but Menken-Schaudt relates to Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 senior and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Both centers started late in basketball.

The two have talked about playing in the post, and Menken-Schaudt raved about Hamblin’s progression.

“It’s been a lot of fun, just to watch her from her freshman year when she’d get the ball and we’d get nervous for her. Now, it’s like, ‘Get her the ball. Get her the ball, she’s open,” Menken-Schaudt exclaimed.

While this year’s team is special and features plenty of seniors, the Beavers should remain strong in the future thanks to young players already on the roster and a strong recruiting class, she said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a rebuilding year (in 2016-17),” Menken-Schaudt added.

A different game

Women’s basketball has changed greatly since Menken-Schaudt’s pioneering days.

“The speed of the game is so much faster. The athletes are so much quicker,” she said.

And with the 3-point line, there’s a huge premium on outside shooting. Instead of an emphasis on play down low, today’s game features “phenomenal” sharpshooters spreading the floor, Menken-Schaudt said. That same evolution has occurred in men’s basketball, as well.

There also are far more quality post players in women’s basketball. When Menken-Schaudt suited up for the Beavers, there were only a few players around the country 6-foot-4 or taller. “Now it seems like everybody has a couple on their team,” Menken-Schaudt said.

In general, the level of play is far better since there are more opportunities for girls to play sports, and they are learning skills and getting quality coaching as youngsters, Menken-Schaudt said.

Thanks to an amazing product on the court, crowds also are far different.

There might have been 100 family and friends for most of Menken-Schaudt’s OSU games, but this season Gill Coliseum drew an average of 4,245 fans per game.

Television coverage has helped fuel the popularity, as many of the games are broadcast throughout the country.

“When I was playing, nobody knew anything that was happening with Oregon State,” Menken-Schaudt said.

Title IX, which guarantees equality of opportunity, became law prior to Menken-Schaudt arriving at OSU, and she credits it with changing the landscape. But that took time to develop.

Back in the day, women’s sports teams at OSU shared a single locker room — the locker room for visiting football squads, which wasn’t well taken care of. Players wouldn’t leave their gear there overnight, Menken-Schaudt said.

“It was just a place to change and shower,” she added.

Today’s locker rooms are palatial by comparison.

“There’s a meeting room with projectors, there’s a lounge area with a full kitchen. There’s a foosball table. It’s an apartment. You could live down there,” Menken-Schaudt said.

A late-blooming star

Menken-Schaudt was a late-blooming star, as she wasn’t recruited out of high school or after playing at Linn-Benton Community College.

Jefferson High School didn’t even have a team every year Menken-Schaudt was there, as a coach sometimes wasn’t available.

“I remember in practice going over things like what travelling was. It was very basic, more like what you’d expect in a P.E. class. I had no intentions of playing basketball after high school,” she said.

After graduating from Jefferson in 1975, she went to LBCC to study graphic arts. That wasn’t panning out, so she stayed for a third year.

LBCC then started up a women’s basketball program and Menken-Schaudt was invited to try out for the team.

“They just knew I was tall,” she said. “There were seven of us. Everyone who tried out made the team. We were actually not too bad.”

Portland State, University of Oregon and OSU had all seen her play in college, but none of the schools expressed interest.

Menken-Schaudt’s coach suggested that she approach OSU about playing basketball, as that was the worst program of the three at the time.

She received a partial scholarship and took it, since that was her only offer.

In the summer, Menken-Schaudt attended Ralph Miller’s high school basketball camp because of her limited experience and was the only 20-year-old there.

One of the other instructors at the camp was newly hired OSU women’s coach Aki Hill, who connected well with the raw center.

“Aki saw a potential in me that nobody else had seen,” Menken-Schaudt added. She didn’t have a lot of bad habits to break, so Hill could work on fundamentals.

With a focus on positioning and her trademark turnaround jumper on the low block, Menken-Schaudt became a star and was named a first team all-American in 1981.

She still holds several OSU records, including career field goal percentage (69.2 percent), career double-doubles (55 games in which she scored at least 10 points and had at least 10 rebounds), points in a single game (51) and single season scoring average (29.6 points in 1980-81). (She played at OSU as Carol Menken; the school’s record books reflect her maiden name.)

The men’s team at OSU was great in the early 1980s, but Menken-Schaudt didn’t get to see them play much. Women’s players, due to practice and games, couldn’t camp out for tickets, and they weren’t given passes by the athletic department.

“I tried to sneak in a few times and (former coach and athletic administrator) Paul Valenti threw me out,” Menken-Schaudt said.

Still, there was camaraderie between the squads, and the men’s guards would sometimes practice with the women during the offseason.

Olympic gold

After college, Menken-Schaudt suited up for the national team, and at the same time, Italy had decided to open up its league to foreigners. She got a call from an agent and “got paid to play basketball and eat pizza.”

“I had totally planned on hanging up my basketball shoes forever,” Menken-Schaudt said.

She ended up playing in Italy for six years and Japan for two. Playing professionally enabled her to extend her career and make the 1984 Olympic team. She was a role player on that squad for the first time in her career.

“Part of the reason I made that team was that I was going to be a good teammate. We were a very good team, and in the Olympics, we won by wide margins, so everyone got playing time,” Menken-Schaudt said.

Winning at the Olympics changes things forever, she said. “It’s amazing how many luncheons you get invited to when you have a gold medal,” she added.

Menken-Schaudt currently works as a sales manager for HOPE 107.9 radio, and she has two grown children, Brian Schaudt, the track coach at New Hope Christian College in Eugene, and Laura Schaudt, a former OSU volleyball player who now is the director of operations for the Art of Coaching Volleyball, a Portland company that does coaching clinics.

Her husband, Ken Schaudt, is the former mayor of Philomath, and a computer drafter. This winter, he worked as a security guard at OSU sports events, including women’s basketball games. In 1981, he was the team manager for the No. 1-ranked men’s team.

Menken-Schaudt said her husband likes to stay close to the action.

And she does, too. She’s in the stands at almost every game.

“I often go down on the floor and pat a few backs afterward, get a few sweaty hugs,” Menken-Schaudt said.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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