Dec. 29, 2008
When the Gonzaga women's basketball team hosts the No. 8 Tennessee Lady Vols in a rematch of last year's game on Tuesday, not only will it be a matchup of two of the better teams in the country, but it will also feature two sisters on opposite sides in Gonzaga's Jami Schaefer (formerly Bjorklund) and Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund.
The game is sold out and will be televised locally on KHQ and FSN Northwest. Unfortunately for Schaefer and Bjorklund, the two will not go 1-on-1 against each other for the second year in a row as Schaefer will miss the game with an injury suffered in Gonzaga's last game
The sport of basketball came naturally to the sisters, as they were surrounded by family members who played the sport at the division I level. Steve Ranniger, their uncle, played basketball at Oregon, while maternal grandfather Duane Ranniger played at Washington State.
"My first basketball memory is playing on a YMCA basketball team in elementary with my Grandpa Duane as the coach," said Schaefer. "I grew up in a "basketball family" with my dad (Jim), uncle (Steve), and grandpa (Duane) all as basketball players. These three men got me interested in basketball and taught me the skills I needed to play at a very young age."
Being less than three years apart in age, the two would constantly go at it at the Bjorklund household, with Jami usually coming out on the winning end. Having each other to work against, it is no surprise the two have such a competitive spirit.
"My favorite memories would probably be when we had a half court sport court for a couple years when we were in middle school," said Bjorklund. "During the summer we would play one-on-one all the time and I was so competitive I wouldn't want to stop until I beat her. We'd end up playing to 100 sometimes because of course I could never beat her."
It is no coincidence that Schaefer decided to play for the Zags as she and younger sister Bjorklund played alongside each other at University High in Spokane, Washington. There, the two sisters helped U-High reach the state 4A tournament in Schaefer's junior and senior seasons.
"When Jami and I started going to high school together and playing on the same team, we became more best friends than sisters," said Bjorklund. "Being able to play with her was amazing. Since we were so close we always had each other's back and could relate and help each other on the court a lot easier."
Last year the two squared off on Tennessee's campus, with both sisters putting on an offensive showcase. Schaefer finished with 19 points off 8-of-13 shooting, after averaging 8.6 points coming into the game. Bjorklund finished with a game-high 23 points, nailing seven three-pointers. The seven treys tied the Lady Vols single-game record and Bjorklund might have broken it, if it wasn't for Schaefer getting to guard her younger sister down the stretch.
"I said, 'there's no way, Angie. I'm not going to let you break that record on me," said Schaefer. "Then I heard the crowd getting into it and it really pumped me up. It was kind of like the old days, playing 1-on-1 against each other."
Needless to say it wasn't easy for their parents to watch their daughters face each other, as they had to come up with a compromise to support both sisters. They cut t-shirts for each school into halves and sewed the disparate parts together, creating what Jami called "Tenn-zaga" wear.
Off the court however, the two couldn't be any closer, as they are constantly checking up on each other.
"I talk to my sister all the time," said Bjorklund. "We would talk everyday if our schedules would allow it, but we usually end up talking a couple times a week during season. It's mainly just to check up on each other, we tell each other everything and I know I can call if I ever need help or advice or anything."
Over the years, the pair has grown to have a mutual respect for one another's game and don't let bragging rights come between them.
"I really admire her for her defense because she's not necessarily the quickest player, but if you tell her to shut down the other team's best player she will get it done," said Bjorklund. "Going from a post to a guard in the transition from high school to college, her outside shot and ballhandling has also really improved."
"Angie is a pure shooter from anywhere on the court,"stated Schaefer. "She has a sweet cross-over and jab step that she uses to get defenders off her. Angie is not the bragging type at all. She is a very humble person, and I admire this about her."
The game will be a pivotal contest for the Zags as they are receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Today top 25 poll and a win could boost them into a national ranking. Tennessee won last year's matchup, however, Gonzaga was without its top scorer and rebounder, Heather Bowman, who had hurt her hand earlier in the week in practice. This year, Bowman is healthy and playing at a high level, leading the West Coast Conference in scoring at 19.2 ppg and averaging 8.6 rpg.