From high school rivals to college teammates, seniors Shelbi Bittinger and Heather Broman left thier mark on Tiger Women's Basketball together.
Story by Lucas Fahrer
If they’re being completely honest, Shelbi Bittinger ’16 and Heather Broman ’16 weren’t sure they’d play basketball beyond high school.
They weren’t even sure they’d be friends.
Luckily, first impressions aren’t everything.
The two Doane seniors vividly remember trading shots—volleyball spikes and three-pointers—on opposite sides of feuding high schools in Class C basketball and volleyball. Heather played for Fillmore Central High School in Geneva while Shelbi suited up for Milford High.
As Southern Nebraska Conference rivals, they recall a certain mutual resentment.
“We did not even like each other in high school,” Shelbi says.
After three years of playing on opposite teams, Heather and Shelbi spent their senior year of high school playing for South Central Volleyball, a club team out of Aurora. Once they finally put on the same jersey, bygones became bygones—and they’ve been close ever since.
“We were rivals,” says Heather, grinning now after spending the last five years as teammates. “We did not get along at all until we started playing club together.”
Back in high school, they were both convinced that, if anything, they’d be college volleyball players—not future 1,000-point scorers for Tiger Women’s Basketball and coach Tracee Fairbanks ’96, ’98E.
Former Tiger Volleyball coach Cindy Meyer started the duo’s recruitment, but it was Fairbanks who finished it, learning of the two separately through her own Doane connections. Her friend, fellow 1996 Crete campus graduate and former Tiger Men’s Basketball player Mark Madison ’96, ’04E, was Heather’s high school basketball coach. Savannah Lohmeier ’13, a player for Fairbanks at the time, had been Shelbi’s teammate at Milford. Both had glowing recommendations for Heather and Shelbi as future basketball players.
The rest is history; they each signed with the Tigers and quickly embedded themselves as contributors in the program for the next four years with a combined 207 starts.
Focusing on one sport harnessed their innate athleticism and pushed them into the program’s record books.
“Where they really have evolved is what they’re giving us on the basketball court,” Fairbanks says. “Now, their athleticism is really being used to be basketball players, and both of them have led us in probably almost every game this year in some category.”
It’s true of their entire Doane careers. Heather or Shelbi led the Tigers in scoring on 52 occasions and rebounding 57 times, and yet they go about their business on the court in much different ways.
Shelbi is a versatile athlete, a two-sport standout who’s annually qualified for NAIA nationals as an all-conference high jumper for Doane Outdoor Track and Field. On the basketball court, the 5-foot-9 senior does a little bit of everything. Think of her as the team’s utility player; in any given contest, she logged time at point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
Adept running the point as she was operating on the wing or feeding the ball into the post, Shelbi padded the stat sheet in several different categories, finishing her career with 1,259 points, 707 rebounds, 263 assists and 244 steals.
“I know that she’s definitely one of the best guards when it comes to passing in the post because I always know it’s going to get there and it’s going to be a good pass,” Heather says. “Being able to knock down the shot or drive makes her really hard to stop.”
While Shelbi played everything from the one through the four, Heather was always the five: the Tigers’ go-to post player.
Though shorter than most at the position, the 5-11 Fairmont product used her speed and agility to become a leading scorer. She wrapped up her career with 1,408 points, 634 boards and a well-earned reputation as a physical inside player.
“She’s a really hard post to guard because she’s very quick compared to, really, any other post in the conference,” Shelbi says. “I’ve taken a couple of elbows from her in practice. She’s pretty feisty.”
All of that comes while playing in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, which has produced 11 NAIA Division II women’s basketball national champions since 2001. They quickly learned that taking a night off wasn’t an option.
“It’s a conference that you can’t predict who will win a game,” Shelbi says. “It makes every game fun.”
Progress didn’t always show up in the win column, but the team improved its record each year Shelbi and Heather suited up. From a 6-22 debut season in
2012-13 to a 15-15 mark with six upsets of ranked teams this year, the seniors are leaving the program in a better place than they found it.
“It goes to show what we had developed in our program that freshman year and that they wanted to be a part of something,” Fairbanks says. “They have, every year, gutted it out and our record has gotten better every year that they’ve been here.”
Plus, reaching that aforementioned 1,000-point plateau was the same kind of grind—a combined 6,108 minutes on the floor and 235 games to be exact. Heather and Shelbi are two of four players in the program to pass 1,000 points in the last two years. While Heather and Shelbi reached the mark within a week of each other last fall (Nov. 24 and 29 respectively), Hannah Dostal ’15 (Atkinson) accomplished the feat during the 2014-15 campaign and Hanah Barnard ’17 (Beatrice) joined them on Feb. 6.
“I believe in my 17 years here, this is the first time we’ve had three in a season get the 1,000-point mark,” Tracee says.
Fairbanks emphasizes to all of her players to be cognizant of their jobs on and off the court. With Heather and Shelbi, she never had to worry about work ethic.
“They’ve just continued to show that they know what it takes to be a solid college student-athlete,” their coach says.
The all-conference players are on track to graduate in May. Shelbi will earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology while Heather, a double major in accounting and business, will be preparing for her CPA exam.
As they look back, all of the games run together—but all of the other experiences stand out. They’ll remember the friendships. The relationships. Their chemistry on the court. The no-look passes. The high-fives from teammates. Coach Fairbanks. Study hall. Basketball trips to Hawaii and Daytona Beach, Florida. Dancing before games.
It’s the camaraderie—not the stats—that drove them all along.
“We’re a very close team,” Heather says, “and that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”