While she waited alone at the head table in the Kimmel Board Room on Wednesday afternoon as well-wishers filed in and the local television stations set up their cameras, Kaycie Reffner had time to reflect on the amazing turn her life and athletic career had taken in the last five months.
"I'm on cloud nine right now. It's just awesome to know that all my hard work has finally paid off," Reffner said.
The payoff for Reffner, the 5-foot-5 senior guard on the Altoona Area High School girls basketball team, came in the form of a Division I scholarship to Presbyterian College in South Carolina. Reffner is the 38th Lady Lion to receive an NCAA Division I scholarship and the first to sign with a Division I program since Katy Oblinger completed her career in 2006-07.
Altoona senior Kaycie Reffner is headed to Presbyterian on a Division I scholarship to play college basketball.
Very few, if any of her predecessors, though, can boast a road as unlikely as Reffner's. As a junior, she averaged 5.8 points per game while starting at wing on Altoona's District 6 Class AAAA championship squad to go along with 3.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Basically being recruited hardest by Division III Elmira College to that point, Reffner was as surprised as anyone when a coach from Presbyterian - a school that recently made the move to Division I and is a fully certified member of the Big South Conference starting this season - made contact after seeing her at an AAU tournament during a live recruiting period in July.
"I wasn't expecting it at all. To be honest, I was thrown off-guard. I didn't really think anything of it," Reffner said after signing and getting hugs from her parents, Doug and Mary. "Their coach was actually watching another girl play. He wasn't there for me. He saw me and he liked what he saw. He called me and told me that he watched me and ended up staying for more games after that.
"He loved how I hustled all the time. He liked my leadership. He said one of the things he liked about me was the way I'm always encouraging other people my team."
Reffner is the first Division I college recruit in Jill Helsel's tenure coaching the Lady Lions.
"This is a great day for Kaycie and her family first and foremost, and another great day for the Lady Lion program. Her hard work and dedication has led to this day, and she is going to be such an asset at Presbyterian College," Helsel said. "All the intangibles that you can't teach a player, she has, and I'm so glad that a Division I school saw in Kaycie what we saw in two years."
"She's an outstanding kid. She's a leader in everything she's done," Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio added.
That isn't so surprising when one considers her maternal aunt is Lisa Shover, the former Lisa Fubio, one of the first Lady Lions to get a Division I scholarship and still considered one of the greatest talents the Altoona program has produced. Cousins Rachel and Brady Gehret went on to huge success in college track after being standouts in multiple sports at AAHS, and two other cousins, Lauren and Matt Gehret, also excelled in high school athletics.
With them in her corner, she's been playing basketball since first grade.
"They've all been so encouraging," Reffner said. "We're such a big basketball family. When they heard the news, they were all for it. I received so much support from them, and I couldn't be more thankful."
Reffner's story is the latest indicator of how recruiting has changed, as colleges now rate players more through camps and tournaments than regular season games. While she was with an AAU team that was essentially her college team, playing over the summer gave Reffner a chance to expand her game without having to worry that missing a shot or turning the ball over would cost the Lady Lions' a win.
"I don't feel as much pressure, and it's a lot more fun," Reffner said.
Reffner was recruited to play both the point and wing for the Blue Hose, but with the college choice out of the way, she is looking forward to the regular high school season.
"I'm hoping to be more of a scorer this year," Reffner said. "We had pretty good seniors last year, and I'm looking to fill their shoes as a scorer and bring hustle and leadership to my team."
Reffner plans to major in business.