By Alex Folsom
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Prior to arriving at the University of Kansas, senior guard Monica Engelman had never considered visiting the state, let alone playing college ball as a Jayhawk. Following her first official visit to any college program, the San Antonio, Texas-native was ready to commit to Bonnie Henrickson and the Kansas women's basketball program.
A high school standout in the hoops hotbed of the Lone Star State, Engelman averaged 17.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in her senior season at James Madison High School on her way to being named to the 5A All-State team. She arrived at Kansas with expectations of contributing right away to a team, with an All-America candidate in Danielle McCray compete in the deep Big 12 Conference.
Engelman did just that, averaging 7.5 points and 21 minutes per game playing alongside McCray and fellow freshman Carolyn Davis in 2009-10. After McCray went down with a knee injury on Feb. 4 of that year, Engelman helped fill the void by leading the Jayhawks in scoring four times, including 16 points in a win over Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.
The following season Engelman showed no signs of a sophomore slump as she was one of only two Jayhawks to start all 34 games for Kansas while averaging 12.1 points per game. It seemed as if Engelman was well on her way to a stellar career in Crimson and Blue.
But her junior season saw Engelman's production start to dwindle and so did her time on the court. After logging 1,114 minutes as a sophomore, good for the seventh most minutes in a KU season, Engelman did not even crack 1000 minutes in 2011-12. Instead, she found herself in a funk and unable to contribute as she had her first two seasons.
"On a personal level it just kind of hit me and struck me in a different way my junior year," Engelman said. "I took that as an opportunity to grow."
Engelman notes that many of her on the court struggles during her third Jayhawk campaign can be linked to bad habits off the court and the need to prioritize the things in her life, yet she credits those personal struggles with helping her grow.
"It helped me find myself and find who I am as a person and realize and what I need in my life and what I don't need in my life," Engelman said.
At the height of her struggles last season, the Jayhawks were making a deep and unexpected run in the NCAA tournament. Eleventh-seeded Kansas knocked off former Big 12 foe Nebraska in the opening round before taking down three seed Delaware in a game that Engelman didn't even see the floor. However, she didn't allow that to cloud her feelings about the team's accomplisments.
"I'm extremely proud of my team ," Engelman said. "We believed in ourselves and were hoping for it, but now we really, really believe in ourselves. We think, 'ok, we can compete with these guys.' We kind of set the bar for ourselves. So, when we headed into this season our expectations are even higher than that."
With the senior leadership provided by Engelman and fellow classmates and All-America nominees Angel Goodrich and Carolyn Davis, the Jayhawks are aimed to make another run in the NCAA tournament in 2013 and to compete well in the Big 12. Engelman herself has been playing with renewed energy and focus on the court and it's something Kansas head coach Bonnie Henrickson has noticed. Henrickson talked to Engelman last season about persevering through her struggles and remaining positive, especially with herself.
"She committed to it over the spring, summer and fall and was able to get back in the gym and earn confidence because you can't just talk yourself into it," Henrickson said. "You have to earn it. I think that has been evident this year from how hard she plays and how hard she competes.
"I'm really proud of her because that's not easy to do. Sometimes it's a snowball that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I think she decided to take the snowball to Florida and get rid of the snow and kind of get a fresh start and be who she has been for the majority of her career here."
Engelman's ability to persevere showed in the Jayhawks' contest against Kansas State on Jan. 2 when she became the 25th player in Kansas history to score 1,000 career points.
"It's a privilege (to be on the 25 players to score 1000 points at KU) and I'm very excited that I'm in that great group of women," Engelman said. "There is always room for improvement, but I just think it's an amazing accomplishment. Not a lot of people get to do that. So, I feel blessed and honored."
As the Big 12 season gets underway, Engelman is excited to continue the Jayhawks' success and knows that the time is right for Kansas to reach its full potential. With her time at Kanas coming full circle, Engelman hopes KU can make waves on both the conference level and the national scene."It's kind of bitter sweet because it's my last year," Engelman said. "Of course I want to go out with a bang, but I don't want it to end. This is the year for us to do it and it's awesome to be a part of that."