Video Spotlight - Sarah Cleveland

LANGLEY, British Columbia - Trinity Western shooting guard Sarah Cleveland didn’t need a whole lot of convincing as to the merits of joining the Spartans.

As it turned out, all the 5-foot-7, Elizabeth, Colo. product needed was a Spartans men’s basketball game at the Langley Events Centre and five-hour drive back to Portland, Ore.  

On Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, the No. 4 ranked Trinity Western men’s basketball team was hosting the No. 3 ranked Saskatchewan Huskies in the first of a mid-season double-header. And of the 820 spectators in attendance that night, Cleveland was one of them.

It just so happened that on this particular weekend, the high school team she coached in Portland had a bye, she already had to be in Bellingham, Wash. for a photo shoot for a marketing piece for Point Guard College – a summer camp and basketball training program in the U.S for whom she worked for and met Spartans women’s basketball guard Jenelle Traber – and her friend Trevor Nerdahl was coming to town as a player with the visiting Huskies.

So there she was, sitting alongside Spartans women’s basketball players Emily Knuaff, Stephanie Carkner and Traber watching her first every Trinity Western game. Not really putting much stock into the situation as one that could alter her life path.

But by the end of the night, one in which Trinity Western wound up beating the Huskies 102-91, Cleveland was starting to catch the Spartans bug.
The following night, she returned to the LEC, this time to watch both the men’s and the women’s games and by final buzzer in the men’s game, that bug had woven itself well into Cleveland’s heart.

“That weekend, I just fell in love with Trinity.” said Cleveland, who is in her third year of eligibility.  “I could see myself playing in that gym and that’s when I thought maybe I’m not done.”

But the question still in her mind was: did she even want to play basketball at all?

Prior to coming to Trinity Western for that late-January weekend, Cleveland hadn’t played the game competitively since the fall of 2009. After two and a half years of playing at Portland State University –following her graduation from Chaparral High School in Parker, Colo. in 2007 – Cleveland had turned in her playing shoes for a coaching whistle.

While still attending Portland State as a student – going on to complete two degrees, in health sciences and community health development, in three and half years  – she was the head coach of the junior varsity team and the assistant coach of the varsity team at Portland’s Lincoln High School.

“I loved my teammates and my coaches I just didn’t love playing as much as I wanted to coach,” Cleveland said about her decision to switch gears in October 2009.

So when Traber had asked Cleveland, while on her very unofficial first recruiting visit to Trinity Western, if she could ever see herself playing again, she scoffed at the idea.

“When she asked me I was like ‘No, no way. I’m done,’” Cleveland said. “I had no intention of playing. That is until I was sitting in the LEC watching the boys play.

“Then I was driving home to Portland a couple of days later and I thought, actually I could play again.”

A few calls to Spartans coach Cheryl Jean-Paul, another visit to Trinity Western a few weeks late and suddenly Cleveland’s dormant career had been injected with life.

Growing up in Colorado playing and being immersed in sports from a very young age – she started playing basketball in Grade 1 and was constantly tuned into one of the local pro sports teams, be it the Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche or Colorado Rockies – she developed a competitive fire that no matter how much she coached, was still present.

“As much as I loved coaching, I realized there were still things I could do and I wanted to do,” Cleveland said. “You can only teach so much before you get the craving to do it yourself.”

So after a bit of travelling and another summer working with Point Guard College, Cleveland made her way to Langley and, with her, she packed a well-honed competitive spirit; something that was somewhat missing in last year’s Spartans.

“She brings a little bit of that American mindset in how she approaches the game,” Jean-Paul said. “I think that’s sometimes something that we needed to gain that competitive edge in terms of how she’s grown up in the game.

“She understands that you have to go out and get it and not be ashamed of pursuing excellence. I think that has helped our team get to that next level of ability to compete and win.”

While it took Cleveland a bit of time to get used to playing basketball again and, at the same time, adjusting to the CIS game, now that she’s been in the fold for a few months, she’s certainly found her groove.

Through eight conference games, she’s fourth on the team in scoring with 7.4 points per game, is averaging 24.3 minutes per game and, frankly, likely just getting going.

“Towards the end of the first term, she has had some breakout game where she was starting to feel a little bit more relaxed within the setting of our team,” Jean-Paul said. “She understands what is being asked of her and she is doing it well. She is able to create scoring opportunities for us that we didn’t have before.”

While it was also somewhat difficult adjusting to her off-court life – she lives off campus and is doing strictly online courses as she takes her Master’s in leadership within the health care stream – that too has changed for the better. The much better.

“Now I love it,” Cleveland said. “It’s great and I have the best teammates in the world.”

A year ago today, Cleveland had just graduated from Portland State, was coaching basketball and had no intentions at all to return to the court.

Crazy what one weekend with the Spartan Faithful can do.


Last Updated: 2012-01-06
Author: Mark Janzen