Kori Pentzer has heard it all before.
“How is she a Division I player?”
“We’re going to offer a scholarship to another player instead of you.”
As great as the Melba girls basketball senior guard is, she’s often been judged by just a game or two. But her proficiency on the court during the last two seasons can’t be denied. She has the numbers and accolades to prove it.
Pentzer averaged 19.9 points on 49.3 percent shooting from the field, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 steals, 2.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. She was the 2A Western Idaho Conference Player of the Year for the second straight season and led the Mustangs to the most wins (24) in program history with a third-place finish at the 2A State Girls Basketball Tournament.
For these accomplishments, Pentzer is the 2017-18 Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Girls Basketball Athlete of the Year.
“I’m not treated like a human being in a way,” Pentzer said. “When it’s going good, I’m treated like a superhero. I’m perfect and I can’t do anything wrong. But when I mess up, it’s really, really, really bad. Sometimes it feels like people are only with you when you’re doing good and the moment you’re not, you are the villain and the worst enemy. It’s so dumb but it hurts anyways.
“But in the big picture I’m just so thankful and blessed. All those things didn’t stop me from having an amazing two years here. I know what I and my teammates accomplished. We did some amazing things together no matter what anyone says, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Pentzer thought the worst of it was behind her.
Nothing seemed like it would top last season’s heartbreaking 49-40 loss to Malad in the opening round of state. Melba entered on a 16-game winning streak thanks to the play of Pentzer, who averaged 23 points per game as a junior.
While she finished close to that total with 22 points, Pentzer shot just 5 of 21 (24%) from the field in the upset loss. But as tough as that was, it paled in comparison to what she went through this season.
It started even before the season began.
Over the summer, Pentzer’s dream school, Montana State told her it was no longer interested. To make matters worse, she had a less than ideal showing at the End of the Trail Tournament in Portland, Oregon while competing for her club team, the Idaho Flash.
That resulted in two more schools in Boise State and Cal Poly telling her: “We’re going to offer a scholarship to another player instead of you.”
“It was a gut punch for sure. I felt like I just couldn’t win,” Pentzer said. “I put in so much work. I put in all these hours but it felt like it was all for nothing. I felt completely worthless. But in the end, it helped me grow as a player and as a person, too.”
But things got much better for Pentzer after she signed her letter of intent to play for Weber State a couple days before this season began. Even better, the Mustangs established themselves as the team to beat.
Melba was ranked No. 1 in the state at the 2A classification by the state media poll for the entire season and had an average margin of victory of 33 points. All but one win came by double digits, they won both the 2A WIC regular season and 2A District III titles for the second season in a row and tied for the state’s longest winning streak at 24 games entering state.
And in the opening round against 2A WIC foe, New Plymouth, it was business as usual for Melba. The Mustangs won 48-19 to set up a showdown with the No. 2 ranked team in the state, Soda Springs.
But the highly anticipated matchup turned into a nightmare for Pentzer and company.
Pentzer missed her first seven shots of the game and didn’t score her first points until there were three minutes and thirty seconds left in the first half. She finished the first half with just five points as Melba trailed 19-16 at the break.
The underwhelming performance prompted a man in the crowd to shout out: “How is she a Division I player?”
She only logged one field goal in the third quarter and the deficit grew to as much as 15 in the fourth. Pentzer ended up fouling out with 1:51 remaining in the game.
Pentzer did tie for a game-high 18 points, but it wasn’t enough in a 44-32 loss. The loss to the Cardinals dashed the childhood dreams of Pentzer.
“I felt really bad because her dream since she was really little was to always win a state championship banner, and it being her senior year, my personal goal was to win her that banner,” said freshman forward and younger sister Paige Pentzer. “After we were done changing and everyone was out of the locker room, I gave her a big hug and started crying and told her, ‘I was sorry I couldn’t get her that banner.’
“She was in the gym four hours a day, lifting, shooting, working, so for her not to get the chance to fulfill her dream was absolutely devastating for her.”
But as hard as the loss was to stomach, Kori Pentzer came out the very next day and capped her high school career in her typical style. She tallied a game-high 28 points on 12 of 21 shooting (57 percent), seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks to anchor Melba to a 55-29 rout of 2A WIC rival, Cole Valley Christian in the third-place game. The state trophy was the second in as many years following a consolation title her junior season.
“To see her bounce back the way that she did, I think that’s not only going to help her in basketball, but in life, as well,” Melba coach Dave Lenz said. “I was so proud of her for that.
“The thing with Kori is, she’s such a competitor so it doesn’t matter if we’re in the gym playing one on one, outside of her house or for third place at state, she’s going to play as hard as she can. I don’t think she knows any other way to play basketball. I was definitely happy that she performed like that in her last game for Melba. It was nice to see her smiling and taking pictures after what she went through the day before. I think that’s something she’ll remember.”
Pentzer finished her two-year Melba career with a 46-4 record. For comparison, from the 2011-12 to 2015-16 seasons, the Mustangs won 49 total games.
She scored 1,059 points in two seasons, just 50 shy of the all-time school record. Pentzer leaves as the owner of seven school records. These include points in a game (37), 3-point field goals in season (46), steals in game (17), points in a season (562), blocks in a season (32), blocks in a career (62) and she has the only two triple doubles in both the girls and boys basketball programs’ history.
Even though the 18-year-old never took home a banner, that level of production can’t be denied. No matter what anyone says.
“Every trial, every failure, every tribulation, it always plays into the next thing that I’m going to face. It helps me face it stronger with a new set of confidence,” Pentzer said. “I know how to handle it better. I know how to come at it from a different angle.
“I’m just going to pick up a basketball again and play my heart out.”