LAUREN WISDOM, TRUMPET FEATURES WRITER
Imagine being chosen to represent your country by traveling overseas to play the game you love against the best talent worldwide. Now, imagine having that opportunity taken from you due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the situation that Payton Draper, the Knights’ starting center, had to overcome this summer.
Draper shined on the basketball floor during her junior year, which earned her the opportunity to travel to Brazil in the summer of 2020 to represent the United States in Division-III women’s basketball. She received an email from the United States of America tour coordinator in February where she learned that the American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) selected her to take on the honor.
However, COVID-19 struck the United States, canceling sports seasons, concerts, festivals and more. Among that list of cancellations was Draper’s trip to Brazil to play the game she loves.
“I was disappointed the trip to Brazil was cancelled because it was something I had been looking forward to since February,” Draper said. “But, my faith got me through a lot of the emotions I was experiencing over the summer. I had some bad days, but remembering my life is in God’s hands helped me overcome some of the emotional obstacles.”
When the virus hit the United States, musical artists, acted quickly and rescheduled their 2020 tour dates for the following year. Similarly, Draper was given the chance to travel to Brazil for the summer of 2021. However, the senior wanted to end her basketball career on her own terms.
“When I found out that the trip was cancelled, the USA tour coordinator offered me the trip for the summer of 2021,” Draper said. “Since I am a senior this year, I declined the offer. Even though it was an amazing opportunity, I wanted my last time on the court to be with my Wartburg teammates. I have put so much heart into the Wartburg program and have gained so much from my experience. I wanted my senior year to be focused on my team’s success. I wanted to end my collegiate career with my best friends and the coaching staff.”
Draper began her collegiate basketball career at Wayne State College and transferred to Wartburg after her freshman season.
At first, Wayne State was the more affordable option, as she received an academic and athletic scholarship for basketball from the Division-II school in Wayne, Nebraska. Draper struggled during her freshman year, and since she has a close relationship with her family at home in Waverly, she chose to transfer to Wartburg.
As a longtime point guard at Waverly Shell-Rock High School, Draper had to adjust not only to a new school at Wartburg College, but to a new position as she was shifted to the center position because of her 6’-1” height. Draper came into the new role during her sophomore season playing behind 2018 graduate and All-American Adrienne Boettger.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better role model for myself,” Draper said. “I am so blessed to have played under her for a year.”
Draper’s junior year, following Boettger’s graduation, the center position on the basketball court was all hers.
“Payton has been a great addition to our team and has grown tremendously in her first two seasons with us,” Bob Amsberry, head coach for Wartburg women’s basketball, said. “She emerged into a key threat for us and is poised to have a great senior year.”
During the 2019-20 season, Draper maintained a 52.7% field goal percentage while scoring 10.6 points per game. She led the team in free throw percentage as well, hitting 77.2% from the charity stripe.
“Payton has so much talent on the basketball court, but she’s also one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met,” Kaitlyn Volesky, Draper’s teammate and a fourth-year business administration major, said. “And lucky for us, she’s an even better teammate. She develops real relationships and cares about every single individual in our program, making sure everyone knows they are valued. She is always positive, selfless, and sincere, and we couldn’t be more fortunate to have a teammate like her.”
Draper’s senior season will begin in January 2021 after the A-R-C postponed all winter sports until the new year. Schedules have not yet been released for the revised seasons.