In a few months Sara Rhine plans to be thousands of miles from home, overseas, living in a new country and getting accustomed to a different culture.

In a few months Sara Rhine plans to be thousands of miles from home, overseas, living in a new country and getting accustomed to a different culture.

One thing that will feel familiar is having a basketball in her hands as the former Eldon Mustang recently announced on Twitter that she signed a contract to play professional basketball in Spain. The announcement came on May 6, following a collegiate career at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa that came to an unfortunate and abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Bulldogs (22-8) had their sights set on a fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid, but Rhine and her teammates did not even have the chance to play in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Rhine’s basketball journey will go on, though, after signing with Club Polideportivo Bembibre.  

“Each step has been really amazing. My time in Eldon was really great and prepared me for the next step and in college basketball I had a lot to learn to improve and grow,” Rhine said. “It has grown me too, as a person more than I ever could imagine a sport could do. As I head into my professional career I look forward to being challenged on and off the floor, learning from my teammates and the league as a whole, and being in a new country and culture with the opportunity to grow.”

When her final season with the Drake Bulldogs was cut short, Rhine found an agent to work with who helped her find her place in the professional basketball world. The 2015 Mustang graduate said it did not take too long to decide that the town of Bembibre, Spain, approximately 4,329 miles from Eldon, would be her new home. Further details of Rhine’s professional contract were not yet available.

According to data from the National Statistics Institute of Spain, the city located in northwestern Spain and about two hours from the coast, had a population of 8,979 as of 2018. Club Polideportivo Bembibre plays in the Women’s League, also known as Liga Feminine Endesa, which is the highest level of league competition for women in Spain and currently consists of 14 teams that play from October through April. 

“I decided it was a good fit and a good place. I was not sure how it was going to pan out in the world of a pandemic, but it was a fast process and sometimes can be,” said Rhine who noted that she primarily stayed focused on the present and had no idea this would be the outcome at the end of her college career.

“With the way my college career ended with no NCAA or conference tournament, I’m truly grateful and not taking it for granted. I’m embracing every step for what it is and enjoying it while it lasts.” 

It is a career that began back in fourth grade when Rhine first began to play competitive basketball. She had plenty of inspiration and motivation to draw from, too, with a family full of college athletes. 

Rhine followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, Paul Twedt, who played basketball and baseball at Drake University. Her mother, Tanya, was a track athlete at Iowa State and her older brother Isaiah, a 2008 Versailles graduate, played basketball at Missouri State.

“Having older brother made me want to get in the game. He was my role model and I wanted to be like him,” Rhine said of her brother, Isaiah. “He and my family grew the love of the game and I am a competitor so basketball allows me to expand my skills. I love that it is a team sport and about the five players on the court working together to achieve a goal. 

“I’ve learned to love basketball even more because so much has been demanded and it is a lot of moving parts. It is a mental game and you have to be a smart player on both ends.”

Well, that kind of outlook certainly translated well to the court where Rhine was an All-State selection in her senior season at Eldon, averaging 32 points and 10 rebounds per game. Rhine was also a Miss Missouri Basketball Finalist as a senior and her athletic ability led to success beyond the hardwood as well as she became a four-time state champion in the high jump with All-State performances in the long jump and hurdles to add to the resume. 

The success immediately continued in the college ranks where Rhine was named the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year, averaging 13.3 points and seven rebounds per outing. By the time she was a senior, Rhine averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest and finished her career with 2,186 points, 999 career rebounds, 114 steals, 96 assists and 95 blocks in 137 appearances.

“Every stage, high school and college, I got out of my comfort zone and learned how much growth comes when you are not comfortable,” the new pro remarked. “Grow, expand and challenge yourself to be the best player and person you can be.”

So, stepping into a new world of professional basketball in Spain should be par for the course by this point.

Rhine noted she has some work to do brushing up on her Spanish, having studied it for two years in high school. However, she said she is ready to dive into the culture before the season is slated to tip off later this year. Rhine will not feel like a complete stranger in her new town, either, with family friends that live around Bembibre and she is excited to have her parents eventually swing by for a visit. 

Rest assured, she will have support from older brother, too. 

“Really proud of her. She’s kept Christ first, worked really hard and made a positive impact on so many people,” Isaiah said of his younger sister. “This is a great opportunity for Sara to start her pro career and I’m very excited to see where this journey takes her.”  

It just so happens that Isaiah, who spent the previous six years as an assistant for the boys’ program at School of the Osage, was recently announced as the new head coach of his younger sister’s old program at Eldon on April 21. Little sister has no doubt the Mustangs made a good choice. 

“Super excited for him,” Rhine said. “Funny how life works, I would never have thought so many years ago that the team I graduated from would be the team my brother coached. Excited for the journey and for him to coach in the town where he lives, be in the community and take his daughter around to different events. Really proud he is going to be leading the program and I know he’ll do a great job, it is in great hands.” 

Eldon’s new coach will also serve as the school district’s speech-language pathologist and Rhine is looking forward to a similar career path when her playing days are over. Rhine majored in elementary education at Drake University and started a graduate degree in school counseling with her first year wrapping up after this semester. Her studies will be on hold when she is in Spain, but she plans to complete a master’s degree in the future. 

For now, she will continue playing a game she loves and she is thankful for everything it has provided. 

“I would not be where I am without people who supported me every step from high school to college and now professional basketball,” Rhine said. “The Lord is laying the groundwork of the path I’m taking forward.”