Sandra Carroll is making room for another hall of fame plaque to add to her collection. The former University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s basketball star found out earlier this week that she has been named to the Canada West Conference Hall of Fame.
It’s actually the second time Carroll has been recognized for past accomplishments by Canada West in 2020. The Wesmen teams that three-peated as national women’s basketball champs from 1993-95 were inducted in early January of this year.
Carroll is also a member of the Manitoba basketball and Manitoba sports halls of fame, and during a telephone interview from her home in Althegnenberg, Germany, the ex-Winnipegger said this latest honour was a proud moment for her and her family. And while it never gets old, she feels the team inductions are more appropriate.
“I may have been one of the stars — in quotation marks — on the team. But really, without the team itself, there would have been no stars,” said Carroll. “So I got the benefit as the one who scored the most points and got a lot of the attention, but really, the team was the thing that was great and shows more what the situation really was.”
Humility is the trademark of most great leaders. And Carroll certainly was for the Wesmen in being named the winner of the Nan Copp Award as the outstanding female basketball player in the country for three consecutive years. And twice Sandra was named the national championship tournament MVP. And that might be part of the answer to the question of what made her the great player she was.
“I did know that I had specific talents and it sort of made me the star of the team,” Carroll said. “I think one of the things that I was able to do, that not a lot of other people were able to do, is when it got to be the important part of the game, I was able to concentrate more than get panicked and that helped me a lot to be successful in those situations where people notice you.”
Perhaps one of the more memorable games Carroll was part of was a loss. On Dec. 2, 1994, the Wesmen were gunning for an 89th consecutive victory, which would have broken the university record originally set by the UCLA men’s basketball teams of the early 1970s coached by the legendary John Wooden.
That night the U of W Duckworth Centre was filled to capacity as a crowd of some 2,300 watched the crosstown rival University of Manitoba Bisons shock the Wesmen 64-62 in a game that was televised nationally.
Carroll says the passage of time has allowed her to view that incredible evening from a different perspective.
“When you’re right in the middle of it and you end up losing, it wasn’t very much fun for us. But the lead up to it was a lot of fun. Especially for women’s sports,” said the John Taylor Collegiate grad, who actually played soccer for many years prior to taking up basketball.
“It was kind of unheard of at the time that people would be that excited about something like that. And there would be lineups around the corner for people to get in. It gave you a feeling that you were special and it gave us a feeling that we’re doing something that really hasn’t been done before. From that perspective, it was really a great experience.”
The Wesmen boarded a plane the very next day to play in a tournament at the University of Hawaii and began a new winning streak that continued right through to a third straight national title — at the expense of the Bisons — in Thunder Bay, Ont.
And Carroll says it was the attitude of the entire team that was the template for their amazing success.
“Even after we lost that game we said, ‘OK, now we’re going to win the rest.’ I don’t think there was any other game that I can remember that we said the streak was just about gone. We always felt every game we were going to win. We would be down by something like 15 points at halftime and playing crappy, but everybody was still very happy because we knew we were going to win in the end.”
When Carroll’s Canadian university eligibility came to an end, she was left with two choices: quit playing basketball or head to Europe, where there were women’s professional leagues in countries like Germany, Italy and France.
Carroll is a little fuzzy on the details of how she wound up in the southeast German city of Chemnitz in what was known as the Bundesliga. She thinks it had something to do with a connection U of W coach Tom Kendall had. After a rocky first year, she had another decision to make.
“That was sort of a make-or-break moment because in East Germany, none of the kids in school learned English. They all learned Russian when they were growing up, so nobody on my team spoke English except for one girl. So I was pretty lonely that first year,” Carroll recalled.
“I remember counting the days down because I got to come back home at Christmas. And the same thing at the end of the year, I thought when I left there was no way I’m coming back.”
As it would turn out, she changed her mind, and went on to play a total of 11 seasons in Germany, with a one-year sabbatical in between to finish her master’s degree in Calgary. And no, other than finishing as the top scorer in the Bundesliga a couple of years, there was no team success for Carroll like there had been during the glory years at the U of W.
But early in her pro playing career, Carroll did meet her partner Anja, and the family has since grown to include son Augustin and daughter Josepha. Carroll says a visit back home to Winnipeg this past summer was scuttled by COVID-19. But she’s actually in a somewhat of a supporting position to try and make sure that trip goes off without any further delays this coming summer.
Carroll is in her 10th year working for PPD, which is one of the largest clinical research companies in the world. And her post-playing career team is very much front and centre with the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
“I haven’t been personally involved in any of those studies, but the company I work for organizes the studies and works with the different doctors testing the medications on the people,” said Carroll, who was promoted to senior clinical team manager in April.
“I think we’re involved even with Pfizer and when Moderna gives out their press releases they’re always mentioning PPD because we organized the trials for them. We’re quite involved and it’s very exciting right now.”
In a way, Carroll’s career is coming full circle — from being a difference-maker on the basketball court to being part of a team that could eventually help develop what would be a game-changer for the entire world.
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