ARCANUM — When Rachel Fearon became Arcanum’s girls basketball coach in 2011, Abbey O’Donnell reminder her of Gumby.
O’Donnell, the daughter of Angela and Tim O’Donnell, has come a long way since the days when she reminded her coach of a cartoon character, culminating in the Arcanum senior signing her letter of intent on Wednesday to play college basketball for Bluffton University.
“When I walked into the gym for the first time I thought of Gumby, the cartoon character Gumby,” Fearon said while both she and O’Donnell laughed. “The way she flopped around all over the floor. I mean, no joke, every time she went up for a rebound she’d flop on the floor.
“Then her junior year got better and this year she actually played defense on her feet.”
O’Donnell agreed that she’s come a long way in her high school basketball career, becoming more confident and a better basketball player. She now feels excited and ready to take on the challenge of college ball, even saying Bluffton women’s basketball coach Chad Shutler told her she could see playing time early in her career with the Beavers.
“He said with my speed and my abilities that I do blend in with their starting (players),” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell, who plans to major both pre-medicine and biology in college, said she chose Bluffton because she felt comfortable there and it reminded her of home.
“When I went to Bluffton, it was just like home,” said O’Donnell, who received an academic scholarship from Bluffton and a grant to help her pay for her education.. “Arcanum is small and everyone knows everyone, and our team is a family. And when you went to Bluffton, they were small, everyone knows everyone, and their team is a family.”
As an added bonus, she likes Bluffton’s purple and white school colors.
“Purple is my favorite color, too,” O’Donnell said.
Not only did the university remind O’Donnell of home, the women’s basketball program and coach Shutler also are similar to what she’s accustomed to, she said.
“The girls are really nice, and they play quick ball like we do,” O’Donnell said. “So I’m hoping I can blend really well with them.
“Coach Shutler, he’s really nice. He personally walked us around the campus when we first got there, and he’s always stayed in touch. He doesn’t yell at the girls, but you know if the girls do something wrong they’ll look over at him because he’s giving you that look. I think he’s going to be a lot like Rachel but less vocal on the sideline, and he doesn’t run up and down the sideline like she did.”
As a senior for Arcanum O’Donnell averaged 11.3 points per game, a team-leading 7.5 rebounds per game and 1.7 assists per game. She was named first team all-Cross County Conference by the league and honorable mention all-Ohio by The Associated Press.
“She has just grown as an individual and just her physical ability has grown, her mental ability about the game has grown and has just made her an overall better player,” Fearon said.
O’Donnell will be tough to replace as she moves on to the NCAA Division III level, Fearon said.
“No. 1 her personality is going to be missed tremendously,” the Lady Trojan coach said. “If somebody is having a bad day, they know they can count on her to bring them up. She was just kind of always that force behind our team to make everybody feel good. And when it came down to crunch time, we knew we could count on Abbey.”
Fearon said she thinks O’Donnell will excel in college.
“I’m proud of Abbey,” Fearon said. “I’m excited to see that I have a player that wants to continue playing basketball for four more years. Once you get past high school a lot of kids are ready to say they’re done. This tells me that she really enjoyed herself, that she really likes the game. I think she’ll do good.”