For all the amazing things she's done on the court in her recently completed NCAA Division II All-American basketball career at California Baptist University, former Franklin star Cassidy Mihalko is better thought of as a person off the hardwood.
Just ask teammate Courtney Nelson, who in the moments following the Lancers' recent heartbreaking Final Four semifinal loss to Virginia Union said this:
"We have so much positivity in our lives that we're truly blessed no matter what happened today," Nelson said in a release through the athletic department. "I've made some pretty strong relationships and personally, I haven't played with a teammate I've respected more than Cassidy. I've looked up to her my whole time here."
It's an aspect of Mihalko's career that gets lost in the astounding numbers the 5-11 shooting guard has put up in her four years at Baptist. She scored 2,231 points, the all-time Pac-West Conference leader and second all-time in school history. Furthermore, the team put up an astounding 109-25 record in her time there, including two NCAA Final Four berths.
She was Player of the Year in the PacWest and earned the program's first NCAA DII first-team All-American honor in leading the team to a 35-3 record this season including a number three ranking in national polls. She averaged 19.8 points per and 7.9 rebounds per game, posted 12 double-doubles and averaged a team high 2.17 steals a game.
Mihalko, who was named the PacWest's Scholar Athlete of the Year two years ago, is thinking about playing overseas after she graduates next month with a degree in business administration, but first she has some serious business to attend to.
"I'll be joining an Athletes in Action team and playing basketball in Kenya for a couple of weeks in June," Mihalko said. "We'll be spreading the gospel and trying to do other good things."
None of this is a surprise to Mihalko's high-school coach, Tony Kathrens, who helped guide Mihalko to an All State career with the Sabers where she finished as second all-time leading scorer.
"I'm really grateful for having had the honor of coaching her," said Kathrens. "We're so proud of all she's accomplished. It really is a testament to her will to be the best she can be at all things. She's really succeeded magnificently."
Mihalko feels the character aspect of things has, in part, driven her success on the court and in the classroom.
"I grew up Catholic, but I wanted to go to a Christian-based school and try to grow in my faith," she said.
Students at Cal Baptist are required to attend chapel at least 15 times a semester, and certain theological-based classes are part of the core curriculum.
She did admit to liking the weather and the relatively close proximity to the Pacific coast.
Mihalko said she could see herself succeeding when she got to the campus four years ago, but what has happened is beyond her wildest dreams.
"No, I really couldn't guess that this would all happen," she said. "When I got to school, I figured I would have to work harder and put in a lot more effort if I wanted to succeed. But out here, I really developed a passion for the game.
"I got more playing time (as a freshman), and as I became a starter and got even more playing time, I started to love basketball even more. The school eventually became a perfect fit. I like it out here. The weather is great, the program was building and this all helped me grow as a person."
As the Lancers' program grew, so did Mihalko's game. In her sophomore year, as an unranked team, they made it the NCAA DII title game before falling.
The team had high expectations last season, but unexpectedly fell in the NCAA West Regional semifinals.
Mihalko said the team was driven after that point.
"We had a strong core group coming back," she said. "The chemistry was good. We wanted to make it back to the national title game and we set a couple of other big goals for ourselves, too. Win the PacWest title outright and the (conference) tournament, things we really hadn't done before. We knew if we could do those things, the season would be a success."
Mihalko did her part to try to make that happen, as she worked on improving her left hand and developed a mindset of going strong to the basket more as opposed to simply playing on the perimeter.
"I was working on that constantly," she said. "I really wanted to become more multi-dimensional."
When that happened, the Lancers themselves became more multi-dimensional, finishing third nationally in scoring at 87.4 points per game.
"From the beginning, we had an idea that we could be something special," said Mihalko. "It helped that we had a strong group of seniors who were strong friends. We were also able to bring in the new players and really make ourselves a family."
Mihalko said that she could not have had the year or career she did without the work of senior point guard Kamille Diaz, who finished second on the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game and averaged 6.5 assists per contest.
"With the way she was playing, we knew we could expect good things to happen (as a team)," said Mihalko.
The team turned in a school-record 32-game winning streak before the loss to Union. The Lancers had a 48-39 lead at the half but ultimately fell, 86-81.
"It was basketball," said Mihalko. "We had our run early and they had their run late when it mattered most."
But the team ended things on a high note, and its bond held. Mihalko said they had a fun get-together last week playing kickball and just blowing off some steam. Mihalko will now focus on finishing the important things, trying to turn in a 4.0 GPA as she prepares to graduate next month and then looking forward to that life-changing trip to Kenya in June.
"I'll eventually get my masters," she said. "I'd like to play overseas for awhile, but everything is up in the air right now."
Whatever choices she does make, people who support her feel things will turn out well because of her character and drive.
"She got to play at a (NCAA) DII school, which is doing well," said Kathrens, "and then she got to play as a freshman, which was even better. Then she continued to do better and the team got even better and then she became a 2,000-point scorer. That is really, really special. That is something you don't see every day."