From champ to adversity, ex-Pioneer battles back
By ALAN DALE
It has been quite the journey and definitely a challenging one for Rachel Blackburn’s collegiate basketball career.
Blackburn enters her redshirt sophomore year at Nebraska after wrapping up her prep career at Leavenworth High School in 2015 with back-to-back state titles, before running into life’s adverse conditions.
“My freshman year was full of ups and downs,” Blackburn said. “I started as freshman my first nine games and then got sick over Christmas break and dealt with injuries for the rest of season.
“We had a really good team though and it was very fun to play with them.”
During her early playing time with the Cornhuskers, Blackburn averaged 6.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while playing 24 minutes per outing while playing for a Power 5 program.
“The highlight of my career so far is when we played Creighton my freshman year,” Blackburn said of the contest against her team’s in-state rival. “We were down by 20 at half and ended coming back and winning. I remember one moment when I was about to play a critical defensive possession toward the end of the game. … I just looked around and thought how cool it was. Thousands of people screaming for us to win the game. It was one of the coolest moments of my life.
“Also starting out guarding, at the time, the best women's basketball player in the country Brianna Stewart. Playing her at UConn was quite the experience.”
Blackburn didn’t play last season as she redshirted her sophomore year to get surgery done on both knees to relieve pain from chronic tendonitis.
“I'll be back on the floor this season,” Blackburn said. “Sitting out a whole season and watching my team play without me was one of the toughest things that I've ever had to do.”
The college game is tougher than some prep stars may expect, but Blackburn is keenly aware of what the battles mean to the athlete.
“Playing basketball at any level after high school is tough,” Blackburn said. “The time commitment that you have to make for basketball is big time. Then also finding time to be successful in the classroom, it's a tough task. Luckily at Nebraska we have the best facilities and staff that put us in the very best position to be successful. I am absolutely blessed to be at this university.
“Then there is the Big Ten competition which is like no other. It is nothing like high school ball. Everybody you play was the best on their high school team. The best in the country. The girls are bigger, stronger and faster. I played one season so far and I've played against five or six WNBA draft picks. It's something you never forget or take for granted.”
Blackburn had to deal with some coaching turmoil in her freshman year and saw a change at the top as Amy Williams stepped in to take over a much younger squad in 2016-17 that struggled.
“The new coaching staff is amazing,” Blackburn said. “They are more than just great coaches, they are great people. They are so hardworking and are getting us back to where we need to be. Our team is taking strides in the right direction every single day.”
Even as her days away from Leavenworth increase, the Pioneer legend still holds dear the memories of her time at the school and with its basketball program.
“I reminisce on my time at Leavenworth High quite a bit,” Blackburn admitted. “I absolutely loved the school and the people in it. My basketball career at LV was nothing short of unbelievable and I couldn't have asked for anything more.
“The state championships that we brought back to Leavenworth and the memories of those state games is something I hold close to my heart. The players and coaches worked so hard for those wins. And most of all I created relationships with people that will last a lifetime.”