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Brooke Schulte: Connective Tissue   

The sightseeing opportunities available in Clinton County, Illinois, include visiting the town of Breese, where Excel Bottling Co. has been brewing Ski soda since 1936; visiting Carlyle Lake, the largest man-made lake in Illinois; and, if she is in her hometown, watching Germantown native Brooke Schulte give a demonstration of a talent her father, Joe Schulte, taught her when she was age eight: how to call squirrels.  

"Clinton County is cows, cornfields, and tractors,” Schulte said in a recent interview. “I can walk to my grandma's house, my aunt's house, and my cousin's house. I live in the middle of Germantown by the fire department, the doctor's office, the police station, and the town hall. I was always hunting and fishing and was always outside as a kid. Everybody knows everybody, and it was definitely a great experience growing up.”

Schulte lives with her family in what was her great-grandmother’s house, in a town with a population of roughly 1,300.  Every generation of Schulte’s from her great-grandparents forward was born in Clinton County.  

And some Germantown stand up comedy? Schulte can supply it.       

“You don't get stuck in traffic; you get stuck behind a tractor.”

Joe Schulte played baseball and football while attending Breese Mater Dei HS and earned a football scholarship to Iowa Wesleyan. From 1985-1988 he pitched for the Houston Astros’ minor league affiliate. In 1986, he went 6-4, striking out 102 batters in 100 innings, and hitting .333 to go along with two home runs. In 1987, he was 5-1 with a 3.03 ERA.  

Schulte’s great-grandmother probably could not have imagined what Joe Schulte would eventually do to the Schulte property with his right arm.   

"My dad made an entire stencil of a court on our driveway,” Schulte said. “He spray painted in the three-point line, the lane, the free throw line, and we would stay out there for hours, pass the ball, and work on repetition."

"Her style is exactly like mine: hard-nosed, never back down, play smart and hard, be a leader but always be a good sport," Joe Schulte said in recent correspondence. "The only difference is she can shoot the basketball very well and I shot bricks. I always told her ’I can't shoot a basketball but I can teach you how to shoot.’ “

"Having an older brother and a father who were involved in sports, I gravitated toward sports in general, just wanting to be outside and wanting to be active," Schulte said. "And when I decided to pick up basketball, I had a great group of friends that I started playing with at age five or six. Everybody shot two-handed, but my dad realized that after a while I was a stronger kid. I loved shooting and was dedicated to it, so I started to shoot with a follow through and I was able to take away my guide hand and really follow through with my right hand.”  

Schulte felt no pressure attending Mater Dei, where her father was selected to the school’s Hall of Fame.    

"In general I was just happy to go to Mater Dei because everyone in my family has gone there,” Schulte said. “My dad, my mom, my brother, and my grandparents all went there. It was in our blood to go there. And that I could go there and have such a great career there and be half the athlete that my dad was is what I always strived to do.”

Schulte's career at Mater Dei included two state volleyball titles and her being named First Team All-State in volleyball and basketball her junior year and senior year. She was named the Monroe/Clinton County Female Athlete of the Year in 2012. Schulte is Mater Dei's career leader in points scored (1,907) and steals (295).

The 5-foot-9 guard then took the 300 mile trip northeast to Chicago.

"Clinton County is what America is made of," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said recently. "Basketball does not care where you come from; it  only cares that you have the heart and guts to compete and to work to get better."

And then, seven games into her freshman year, those attributes in Schulte were tested, but not on a basketball court.   

Schulte is no stranger to knee injuries, her father having previously undergone total reconstructive knee surgery.

“I told myself when it all heals it will be better and I will back to playing ball soon," Joe Schulte said. "And deer season was coming up so I had to look as if I did not get going I could not deer hunt."    

Her basketball hard work done for the year, now came the hard work of rehab of an ACL tear. But like the geographical and personal closeness that embodies the town and county she was born and raised in, her family was with her physically and emotionally.    

"Right when [the injury] happened my parents both took off work for a week and a half and spent that time with me after my surgery," Schulte said. "And I think that was really big in getting me stable mentally afterward. I had never previously been forced to sit out, so it was definitely hard and my dad just said 'time will heal it and I know you can get through it.' Having him there from point A and all the way to six months later really helped guide that process and keep me strong mentally."

And time did heal Schulte's knee injury, though as time is known to do, it works at its own pace.  

"Strength is phase one, then balance, and then just trusting your knee again," Schulte said. "And then when you play and not think about the knee, you take the focus away from the knee, so I was focusing and making it second nature that I was just going to go and play. It took a few months to develop that mental strength."   

Schulte played in 24 games the following year, shooting 48 percent from the floor, and perhaps spiting time in the process.  

Her sophomore year found her playing in 35 games, including a Field Trip Day game in front of 5,602 grade school kids at Big East rival St. John's. DePaul won that game in overtime, with Schulte making two free throws with 14 seconds left to send the game into the extra minutes. Schulte finished the game shooting 5-7 from the field and scoring 15 points. And the opportunity of making two free throws late in a game? A dream of every kid who has ever played basketball on a playground, an alley, or a cul-de-sac, including one kid from Clinton County.  

"I think every kid takes the ball in their court and says 'we're down two,' "Schulte said. "I have done that scenario over and over in my head. I was always at the free throw line in my driveway doing that and I think by preparing yourself mentally through repetition and treating it as a regular moment, even though it is a big moment that you have repeated over and over, that it just seems like a casual experience."

But Schulte making those free throws in that situation may also have had something to do with a different rectangle on a different hardwood court.

In Schulte's junior year at Mater Dei, the Knights were attempting to avenge a state title volleyball loss to Joliet Catholic the prior year. Down 23-22 in the final and deciding set of the Class 3A title game, Mater Dei scored consecutive points to win its sixth state volleyball title. Schulte had 10 kills and seven digs in the match. And the game-winning serve.

"I always played with girls that I was surrounded by that I loved to play with, and coming to DePaul that competitive nature is instilled in everybody," Schulte said. "So it is easy to want to be a better player and to want to be competitive because everybody around you is pushing you to be that way."  

It is that competitive nature, and a textbook fade away jump shot, that helped Schulte score 13 points versus then-No. 4 Baylor, and notch 12 points and three steals against then-No. 1 UConn as part of DePaul's run to the Sweet 16 last season.  

"Brooke has been very solid, stoic, and you know what you are going to get from her every day," Bruno said. "She has played every kind of position. We can have her play big and at the guard. We have had her play on the block. She has had to guard big players. She has had to do so many different things for us. We could not be where we are without her."

And DePaul is, as of this writing, ranked No. 17 in the country. The Blue Demons have won a share of the Big East regular season title the past three seasons and have advanced to the Sweet 16 in two of the past three seasons.  

Schulte was a Preseason All-Big East selection this year. She is a three-time member of the Big East All-Academic Team and a four-time winner of DePaul's Shirley Becker Academic Award. She has a 3.625 grade point average en route to a degree in Health Sciences.

"[My dad] always tells me the cliche of always giving 110 percent,” Schulte said. “[Doing] the dirty work, the little things, and going out there playing for your team and having fun in what you do.”

The capstone of her basketball career at DePaul, so far, has been a career-high 21 points in a win versus then-No. 11 Syracuse in the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament this season. Schulte shot 7-12 from the floor, including 3-6 from three-point range, in a 108-84 win.

She recently recorded a 19-point effort versus then-No. 2 Notre Dame, shooting 8-11 from the floor and 3-4 from behind the arc. Her back-to-back three-pointers to start the third quarter gave DePaul its first tie since the opening minutes of the contest.  

Schulte will apply to DePaul’s nursing school upon graduation, with the goal of eventually working as a registered nurse in the Chicago area.

But she won’t be able to stay away from Clinton County and her father for long: he still has to teach her how to call doves. 

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