When Merle Wiehl came to the United States to play basketball, little did she know that she would earn plenty of honors in her freshman year at Western Nebraska Community College.
Last week, Wiehl was named a NJCAA Second Team All-American. Only two Region IX players made the list, the other was Eastern Wyoming Colleges Pamela Bethel, who was a honorable mention selection.
Wiehl said her focus wasn’t any honors when she came to WNCC from Germany.
“I never thought I would be All-American, I did not even know what that was,” she said. “This whole year has been overwhelming with new experiences and it is so different compared to back home. I am learning something new about college basketball and the league almost every day.”
Wiehl said the honor wouldn’t be possible without her teammates.
“It feels awesome,” she said. “I’m super thankful for my team and the opportunities I have playing here at WNCC.”
Wiehl, who also earned All-Region IX and All-tournament, said the team had a great season.
“I think we had a great season,” she said. “We had up’s and down’s but we stuck together and made this season really special. Not only on the court but also off the court. We started as being teammates and ended up as family and that is an awesome feeling.”
Wiehl’s freshman campaign was remarkable. Wiehl was a key member of the Cougar team that finished the year 29-5 and back-to-back trips to the national tournament. WNCC earned an at-large berth to the national tournament and fell in the first round to Tallahassee Community College 97-85. Tallahassee went on to win the national tournament.
Wiehl averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a game this season. She also dished off 2.8 assists and 1.8 assists. Wiehl had 30 double-figure contests, including scoring in double figures the last 22 games of the season. Her season high was a 26-point game against Laramie County Community College on Feb. 10.
Wiehl said what led to her success on the court was practice.
“I think what leads to the success we had this season was our practice,” she said. “We went hard every day and competed. This made us better as a team and as individuals. Personally, I had to adapt to the American style of basketball, but I think I fit in and I just tried to give my best.”
There is a big difference between American and German (or international basketball.
“There are some different rules back home, like for example we have a 24-second shoot clock and it resets to 14 when it hits the rim,” she said. “These small differences were easy for me to adapt to. But here the focus is a lot on playing a fast pace game and it is also more physical than back home. In the beginning it was just overwhelming playing in a different country and with a different style of basketball, but my teammates and coaches helped me adapt to it super quick.”
Wiehl becomes the 20th women’s basketball player to become an NJCAA All-American. Sladjana Rakovic earned third team all-American last year. Wiehl could be only the second player in Cougar history to be all-American in both of her years. The only other Cougar to earn all-American her freshman and sophomore year was Thais Celeberto back in 2000-2002.
“That is definitely and honor for me, especially because WNCC is such a special place and I am so thankful to be here,” she said. “This year has been so amazing in many different ways and a lot of that has to do with the people here. It just feels great to be able to represent this school and program.”
Wiehl said she is looking forward to her sophomore year and leading the team. WNCC had just four freshmen on the team this season. Besides Wiehl, the others were Eva Langton, Karli Seay, and Josie Perez.
“As a sophomore next year, I have the chance to lead the incoming freshman which is going to be a new position for me but I am excited for that,” she said. “I definitely want to have a great season, win regionals, and go back to nationals.”
Wiehl is joined on the second team with Anisha George of Moberly Area, Ryan Holder of Harford, Jazza Johns of Iowa Western, Awa Keita of Cochise, Natasha Mack of Angelina, Ladelia Maggett of Vincennes, Bethy Mununga of Northwestern Oklahoma A&M, Kiara Smith of ASA Brooklyn, and Alexis Tolefree of Jones County.
First team All-American honors were bestowed upon Ester Adenike of South Georgia Tech, Shayla Bennett of Gulf Coast State, Alexes Bryant of New Mexico, Tia Hay of Salt Lake, Japonica James of Tallahassee, Cierra Johnson of Shelton State, Mariah McCully of Wabash Valley, Mollie Mounsey of Seward County, Jade Thurmon of Kilgore, Sara Vujacic of Walters State.
Third team all-American honors went to Tiena Afu of Southern Idaho, Jayshan Chears of Malcolm X, Nique Cherry of Jones County, Alexus Foster of Dawson, Kiara Knox of Central Arizona, Deja Marshall of Spartanburg Methodist, Ericka Mattingly of Butler, Ines Nezerwa of Jacksonville (Texas), Wynter Townsend of Highland (Illinois), and Masha Vasilevko of Weatherford.
Joining Bethel as an honorable mention all-American include Naomie Alnatas of Iowa Western, Destiny Arvinger of Daytona State, Mykala Baylor of Northwest, Troylan Brooks of ASA Brooklyn, Destiny Cozart of John A. Logan, Marrita Diagne of Cochise, Holly Forbes of Mineral Area, Abby Hubert of Cleveland State, Dayuna Johnson of North Dakota State College of Science, Diamond Jolly of Gadsden State, Cekeya Mack of Albany Tech, Miki’ala Maio of Salt Lake, Jada Mickens of Hutchinson, Alexandrine Obouh-Fegue of Eastern Florida State, Andi Pierce of Northern Oklahoma-Enid, Fredricka Sheats of Central Georgia Tech, Kiara Shoals of Frank Phillips, Eryka Sidney of San Jacnto, and Tina Stephens of Florida Southwestern State.