Split Decisions: Carmen Reynolds' path from Buckeye country to the maize and blue nation

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BY ZAK PYZIK
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 15, 2010

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is a reliable Christmas card sender. Every year, a card makes its way to the town of Hilliard, Ohio — and every year it's signed the same way: “Go Blue, Go Bucks.”

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Its recipient? The family of Michigan women’s basketball forward Carmen Reynolds. The sophomore resides less than 20 minutes away from Brutus Buckeye’s lair in Columbus.

Jim “Jimbo” Reynolds, Carmen’s father, played college football for Miami (Ohio) and Akron. During Jimbo’s time at Miami, he made acquaintances with Tressel, who was the quarterbacks and receivers coach from 1979-80. And occasionally, Tressel reminds the Reynolds family of their bond.

But the card doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as Carmen was a die hard Ohio State fan her entire life. Christmas photos show her whole family draped in Buckeye colors before she decided to come to Michigan. In fact, right before she verbally committed to Michigan, she had her eye on an Ohio State football jersey — luckily for her, and the Wolverines, she didn’t buy it.

Carmen’s brother, Cody Reynolds, is a senior who plays lacrosse for Ohio State. On some weekends, Cody replaces his scarlet and gray to sport maize and blue from the bleachers at his sister’s games. And Carmen’s longtime friend Caitlyn Martin was recruited the same year as Carmen to play soccer for the Buckeyes.

And as they’ve learned, it’s hard for the Reynolds family to bear the block “M” in their anti-anything-that-is-Michigan neighborhood.

But the decision for Carmen to represent the University of Michigan, even after growing up in a Buckeye-crazed region, was quite easy for her.

Enter the M-Den

The M-Den is the everything-go-blue store that can arguably take credit for almost everyone’s first taste of maize and blue syndrome.

Before the start of Carmen’s senior year classes, she wanted to make a decision about which college she would attend. Besides a few mid-major schools, Michigan was the only big-time program that offered Carmen a scholarship (Ohio State did not express any interest). But she wasn’t too quick to exclude her other recruitment offers.

On their first visit to Ann Arbor: Jimbo, Mugsy (Carmen’s mom), and Carmen took a trip to the corner of State Street and North University Avenue to check out the Michigan apparel supply shop. It’s safe to say that they came out with a lot more than they expected.

Mugsy explained how Jimbo was swift to the register at the M-Den, making enough purchases that if Carmen didn’t choose to be a Wolverine, there would be far too much maize gear taking the trip back home to Hilliard.

So, while the decision to choose Michigan by the conclusion of her trip was probably not as simple as her decision to choose basketball and soccer over cheerleading early on, it was still a decision that Carmen was comfortable with. Comfortable enough that when she returned home after her visit to Ann Arbor, she called some of the other coaches that recruited her to tell them she had decided to play at Michigan.

“Since we grew up in Columbus and have been life-long Ohio State fans, it was crazy to think of the idea that Carmen would be attending that ‘School Up North,’ ” Cody said. “I think the decision for her wasn't challenging at all, she was going to a get a great education and play Big Ten Division I college basketball.

“I think it is actually pretty cool that we attend rival schools and from time to time we joke around about it,” he continued. “My family knew she was making a good decision and we were behind her 100 percent.”

And despite the family’s scarlet and gray roots, the transition was easy.

“When Carmen was a sophomore her mom and I asked her jokingly what she would do if Michigan was the only school to offer her a scholarship to play basketball,” Jimbo said. “Her response was, ‘Well, I guess I would be a Michigan Wolverine. What would you do?’ she asked us. Our response was, ‘We would be the biggest Michigan fans in the world!’ ”

So Carmen was officially a Wolverine by the start of her senior year. And while her friends, like Martin, were committing to Ohio State for other sports, Carmen was preparing her role in coach Kevin Borseth’s offense at Michigan.

Cheering to Crisler

Today, Carmen leads the team in 3-pointers made (53), good for second in the Big Ten. But choosing Michigan was not the only decision that led her to Ann Arbor. But rather, how did she end up playing basketball?

Reynold's saga to Crisler Arena is epic. During her early elementary school days, Carmen was a cheerleader and played soccer. During one of Cody’s basketball games, she felt the urgency and desire to be on the court playing instead of cheering. So she gave up cheerleading in the third grade to exclusively play basketball and soccer.

It was difficult to leave cheerleading and progress to a more fast-paced and aggressive sport because Carmen had experienced troubles with asthma at a young age.

“When Carmen was younger, she had asthma and had to use an inhaler a few times a day,” Cody said. “I think having asthma made her nervous but as she got older, she needed the inhaler less and less until she didn't use it at all.”

But for Carmen, it was pretty easy to give up cheerleading. That’s where her hopes at women’s basketball legacy began.

Basketball always seemed to come before soccer in the offseason. She never could get enough of the court. She use to volunteer to score-keep at sixth-grade boy’s basketball games. One boy peed himself while taking a foul shot, luckily she avoided cleaning the mess.

But it wouldn’t be that easy.

Carmen’s soccer coach had instituted a new regulation that forbade players from missing practice for a commitment to another sport. Was she going to leave some of her best friends on the soccer team that she had grown up with to play a sport she had been playing for less time?

Heck yea.

“Carmen absolutely loved basketball,” Jimbo said. “When her soccer club team made it clear it was not acceptable to miss even one soccer practice due to a commitment to another sport, a line was drawn. Was Carmen going to miss a basketball game or a soccer practice? That was the last of her team soccer days, after the spring season of seventh grade.”

The decision to prioritize basketball above soccer was probably a harder decision for Carmen then choosing to come to Michigan. For a middle school student, being at odds with the same friends that you’ve done everything with since first grade, is thorny.

The sudden transition made it difficult for Carmen.

“I feel that Carmen giving up soccer in seventh grade alienated her from some of her friends and that is a very hard situation to deal with as a young girl in middle school,” Jimbo said. “But I think Carmen grew immensely from the experience.

“It strengthened her character and revealed her inner independence,” Jimbo continued. “And her friendship with Caitlyn stood the test of time (and sport and college rivalry) because they have remained the best of friends.”

Net-to-net

In high school Carmen was able to take on another sport in the adjacent season. As a prospect for the six-foot club early on (in ninth grade), Carmen started playing volleyball.

Carmen didn’t commit to volleyball the way she did to basketball in the offseason. Sometimes to practice for basketball when the gym was closed, she had to find a way to sneak in. She even found a way to fiddle with the locked light switches to turn the lights on. Some days Carmen would shoot by herself in the locked gym.

Similarly, in the winter, she would go outside at her house and just shoot around. Her mom recalled one instance when Carmen lined a plethora of gloves at the door, and she was shooting around in the snow. Any time the pair she was wearing got wet, she would go to her doorstep and exchange the wet pair with a dry pair.

And though she didn’t dedicate herself in the offseason to volleyball as much as she did basketball, she undoubtedly possessed the natural aptitude to prevail in the sport.

“For only playing volleyball three months of the year and doing nothing outside of the regular season like club volleyball, she was an amazing player,” her high school volleyball coach Betty Cameron said. “Being a two time All-Ohio team member and being out for four to six weeks her senior year and still making All-Ohio, that says something about her athletic ability.”

So once again the chronicle continued. Carmen had begun another tale of two sports, basketball and volleyball, being declared a four-year letter winner in both. And though she likely would have been gifted enough to compete at the collegiate level of volleyball, she was always ready to take a basketball scholarship over a volleyball one.

And though the decision was still difficult it was not nearly as challenging as the current conflict that is boiling in the back of her mind.

The dilemma

“I’m really trying to decide if I should buy a (Gameboy) DS,” Carmen said. “I always have to play (Krista Phillips) on the away game bus rides.”

Carmen is afraid it may interfere with her academics, which she takes very seriously. Especially, since she recently applied to the organizational studies program at the University.

She expects to be informed of a decision near the end of this month. With her mind set on getting in, Carmen has not declared a major yet.

For Carmen, decisions are still showing themselves every day. Next year, she will be moving from her place on Greene Street with teammate Courtney Boylan and volleyball players Alex Hunt, Michelle McMahon, and Claire McElheny to an apartment by herself. One reason for this, she says, is to focus more on studying and limit distractions.

And though Carmen thinks she will get more done, Boylan says that Carmen will probably just end back up in Boylan’s room.

Boylan also said that sometimes when Carmen is studying she will just pass out on her computer.

That will pose another difficult decision for Carmen to make. And while Reynolds and her parents will always bleed maize and blue even in Buckeye country, sometimes those decisions have shown ramifications.

One afternoon in Hilliard, Mugsy rode her bike on a trail wearing a T-shirt that was intended to represent her daughter, Carmen, revealing in its maize and blue colors. Camping out on one end of the trail was a group of men — some wearing Buckeye gear.

The Ohio State fans started screaming and verbally abusing Mugsy. The group would never know that the Reynolds family is just as faithful to the Buckeyes as they are Michigan.

But despite the constant questions of “Why Michigan?,” the Reynolds family has remained split (even though her grandpa admits that outside of basketball he always roots for Ohio State).

Those campers will never know Carmen Reynolds and the decisions that she has made.

But in her school-split household, a yearly Christmas card from Columbus reminds the family of who they are.

“Go Blue, Go Bucks!”