The air of melancholy that surrounded SM East’s one-point loss to Blue Valley West in the state 6A basketball semi-final in 2013 was punctuated by the fact that it meant the end of one of the school’s most productive tandems. After graduation, guard Vance Wentz was headed up to Montana State University. His favorite target under the basket, Zach Schneider, would accept an offer to play for Northwest Missouri State. Everyone believed their time together on the court had come to a close.
But after their freshman years in college, Wentz and Schneider are being reunited on the court — and Bearcats basketball fans are hoping they can recreate the dynamic presence that they produced in high school at SM East for Division II Northwest Missouri State.
Wentz was the first new player to commit to Montana State for the Bobcats 2013-2014 team. A talented ball handler with solid shooting skills, he was elated to be heading to play Division I college ball, a dream for any high school player. But things looked different when he arrived in Bozeman. After a year with the team, Wentz felt disconnected, like he wasn’t really a part of things.
“I started thinking back on the year of practice and it felt like I was just kind of there, but not in it,” he said. “I didn’t really do much.”
Wentz had been excited to sign on with a Division I school. But he had been more excited about the prospect of actually playing college basketball — not sitting on the bench. And the toll of being 1,100 miles away from his tight-knit family was higher than he’d expected.
“It was pretty tough for me,” he said. “I missed my family and friends. I had this feeling that I wasn’t where I needed to be, in terms of basketball or as a person.”
As Montana State’s middling season wound down in March, Wentz told his parents he wanted to transfer. He asked Montana State coach Brad Huse for a release, and Huse granted it. Wentz wanted somewhere closer to home where he had a good chance to get real playing time.
He set up visits to Rockhurst, Missouri Southern and Northwest Missouri State, where Schneider had just won the MIAA Freshman of the Year award. The Northwest Missouri State coaches had mentioned a desire to see Wentz in Maryville before, but Schneider was cautious about lobbying too hard for Wentz to make the move.
“The coaches knew who he was from recruiting me at SM East, and they brought him up to me a couple times, but I didn’t want to interfere,” he said. “When he made his visit here, that’s when we really talked about it.”
Wentz liked what he saw out of the Bearcats program, right away. And the chance to be reunited with Schneider was especially attractive. He signed on, and in May he moved to Maryville for a month for team workouts. The chemistry with Schneider reemerged quickly.
“There are a lot of times where you see that he knows what I’m going to do and I know what he’s going to do,” Schneider said. “You can see the connection.”
Last week, Wentz moved to Maryville for the school year, just an hour and a half from Kansas City. His parents and younger brother Joey will be able to see him play this year — and he’ll be able to come back and see some SM East games as well, he hopes. He’s rooming with Schneider and two other Bearcats basketball players. Pre-season starts the first week of school.
“I’ve known Zach for a long time,” Wentz said. “We’ve been close since our first year at SM East. The playing chemistry with him is still there. But the whole team’s chemistry is amazing. That’s one of the reasons I chose Northwest Missouri. You feel like this team could really be something special.”