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Oakridge great Sophia Wiard continues to do ‘whatever it takes’ at Toledo

Eagles all-timer elevates her game and basketball team around her, as Rockets continue to climb.

Sophia Wiard is only three years removed from her days at Oakridge High School, where she was the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer on the basketball court and an all-state softball player to boot.

But as a Division I starting point guard at the University of Toledo, the 21-year-old Wiard admitted that Father Time is beginning to catch up with her.

“I mean, it’s a lot of work and my body’s starting to feel it. I’m like, ‘What?’ Like, I never thought I’d truly be (going through this),” she said. “My body’s kind of telling me it’s coming closer to the end.”

By no means is Wiard ready to hang it up. In fact, she’s as driven as ever.

Just like her days at Oakridge, Wiard is still an ultimate competitor, relentless worker and consummate teammate, who makes everybody around her better. Toledo finished with an impressive 29-6 record in 2021-22, as the Rockets tied a school record for most victories in a season and set a Mid-American Conference record for league wins in a season (19-1).

At the end of the highly successful campaign, Wiard was presented the “Whatever It Takes” and “Ultimate Rocket” awards by Toledo.

Photos courtesy of University of Toledo Athletics

“I love that about her — I know that she’s the ultimate competitor,” Toledo coach Tricia Cullop said. “She’s going to do whatever it takes to help our team be successful. If that means taking a charge, she’s going to take a charge; if that means getting a rebound … . We asked her in the Marquette game to guard a 6-2 kid and she did it. You know, that was a tough matchup, but she’ll do whatever we ask her to do to the best of her ability.

“And she’s a clutch player. You never worry about her in tight situations in games. In fact, I feel like that’s where she thrives.”

Wiard took her lumps in that Marquette game.

Late in Toledo’s 92-82 road win during the third-round WNIT contest March 24, Wiard was boxing out and she jumped for a rebound. She was knocked to the floor and a Marquette player landed on top of her.

Wiard’s face absorbed the brunt of that fall, smacking the floor. Her lip split, requiring six stitches, and a couple of teeth were pushed back. She made a visit to the emergency room in Milwaukee that night, then as soon as her Toledo team’s plane landed, she made a visit to the dentist. Wiard continued to have issues with her teeth because of that fall, recently making another trip to Toledo for more dental work.

“She walked to the bench and she said, ‘I’m not coming out.’ She’s got blood just gushing from her mouth and I’m like, ‘Yes, you are,’” Cullop recalled. “You know, we’ve got a minute left and she didn’t look good. I was a little nervous that she might have a concussion or even a fracture of the face because she hit hard. You know, she sat and cheered on the bench. I think if I would have sent her back in, she would have gone, but I wasn’t going to.

“She’s a tough cookie. Her mental toughness is impressive, and that’s part of what makes her a special player.”

Mental and physical toughness have long set Wiard apart from most.

Photos courtesy of the Wiard family

At Oakridge, she was typically the best athlete in any gym or on any field. Even in her youth sports days when she played against the boys, you could have made the argument she was the best and most competitive player.

Oakridge softball coach Joe Coletta adores Wiard for her personality and leadership traits, as well as the fact that she never seems to have a bad day. He said that even if she’s not the best athlete in the gym anymore, she’s going to work harder and smarter to ensure she keeps her spot in the lineup and continues to improve.

“What separates her is her ability to make everyone else better on the team,” Coletta said. “She has a keen sense for picking up her teammates when they need a boost. She’s mature beyond her years in that regard because it’s never about her, it’s always about the team. That seems to be quite rare, and that comes from her parents (Joel and Renee Wiard), too.”

Oakridge legend Sophia Wiard, right, and one of her mentors, Joe Coletta, left, guest on Episode 28 of the CatchMark SportsNet Podcast Monday, May 16, 2022, at the CatchMark studio in Whitehall, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Wiard is a gamer. She’s not willing to give an inch, even on Toledo’s official roster, which lists her at 5-foot-7 even though she swears she’s 5-8.

After a freshman year of adjustment from high school to D-I ball, Wiard has started every game she’s played the past two seasons. As a junior in 2021-22, she averaged 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists while leading the MAC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.49) for the second straight year. She also set a school record for minutes played in a season (1,213 minutes, 32 seconds).

Wiard was a second-team All-MAC selection and made the All-MAC Tournament team. She also earned Academic All-MAC honors with a 3.875 GPA in business/finance.

At Oakridge, Wiard finished with a 4.064 GPA and she was selected as the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award winner. The 2019 alumna is the all-time scoring (1,889) and assists (450) leader at Oakridge, where she was a four-year captain for the varsity basketball team and multiple all-state honoree.

Wiard made plenty of big plays at Oakridge and raised the Eagles to new heights. Her penchant of making big things happen has continued at Toledo.

During her freshman year, she swished a buzzer-beating heave from beyond three-quarters court at the end of the third quarter in a 66-65 victory over Pacific in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas. As a sophomore, Wiard tied a Toledo single-game scoring record with 42 points in an 82-79 win at Northern Illinois on Dec. 10, 2020. That record had stood 30 years.

Cullop noted that Wiard is very dependable – she knows what to expect from her. “She’s a joy to coach” and “I love her to death,” said the winningest coach in Toledo women’s basketball history.

Wiard, who is now a senior academically and has two seasons of eligibility remaining, would like to play professionally after she’s done at Toledo. She would entertain playing overseas, if that’s her best opportunity. For now, she is making the most of her time with the Rockets.

Aside from basketball, she relishes being “Aunt Sophie” to sister Keyara’s two young sons. Being an aunt has given her a whole new perspective when it comes to the importance of family. Currently, Wiard is home visiting family and using this break to recharge a bit, although she’s still working out. While home, she’s also helping out Basics Sports with training sessions for young athletes.

Wiard was already a great leader before she left for Toledo and she’s continued with that, but she’s more aware now of her influence on the next generation both on and off the court.

“For younger kids or anybody else in it, if it’s not fun, something’s not right. Basketball’s fun, sports are fun. Just keep it fun and then you’ll love it,” she said. “I enjoy playing basketball and I enjoy working out for it because it’s fun. If it’s fun, then great things will happen.”

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