The trophies, team photos, game tapes, newspaper clippings and two varsity letter jackets are packed neatly into a single box, a time capsule stowed in the family garage. For Stefanie Schilling, 19, it's the only remaining physical evidence of her former life. "I dreamed of playing college basketball and becoming a coach," says Stefanie, a 2001 graduate of Troy High in Fullerton, Calif., who after two years as an all-league guard quit just days before her senior season was to begin. "Basketball was my life for eight years, but when I walked away, a huge burden was lifted." Stefanie hasn't touched a basketball since.
According to her mother, Susan, when Stefanie started playing competitively in the fifth grade, basketball "came naturally, and Stefanie had found her love." Stefanie, who also played soccer and volleyball growing up, competed on basketball travel teams through junior high and was an all-league player her freshman year at La Serna High in Whittier, Calif. At La Serna she was also on the varsity volleyball and track teams, but after freshman year her family moved 15 miles to Fullerton so she could play basketball at a larger, more competitive school.
Troy was Orange County's No. 1--ranked girls' team in Stefanie's sophomore and junior seasons, but with each passing year her passion for the game diminished. She continued to run track in the spring, but Stefanie--who at her coach's insistence had dropped volleyball upon arriving at Troy--says basketball became an overwhelming commitment. "I was physically and mentally exhausted," she says. "We had daily three-hour practices, Saturday morning practices, team lunches, team dinners. During the off-season we had mandatory pickup games during the school day, we worked out, we played in leagues." Less than two weeks before the season was to start in November 2000, Stefanie told her coach she was leaving the team.
Within a month of quitting, Stefanie started modeling to fill the time she suddenly had to spare. Now a sophomore at Fullerton College and planning to major in business, she models for catalogs and magazines, and acts in TV commercials.
In retrospect, Stefanie says, she would have tried to take "bigger chunks of time off" to prevent the burnout. She believes that continuing with volleyball could also have helped. "I miss the little things about basketball," she says, "but I've got no regrets. At the time I just couldn't imagine going through another season--let alone four more. I still can't imagine it." --A.C.