Whitko senior Ellie Snep moves to the basket during a Three Rivers Conference game earlier this season against Manchester. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Whitko senior Ellie Snep moves to the basket during a Three Rivers Conference game earlier this season against Manchester. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
SOUTH WHITLEY – Ellie Snep rebounded from cancer, and she has no trouble rebounding a basketball.

Snep, 18, is a 5-foot-8 senior on the Whitko High School girls basketball team. On Saturday she set the program’s all-time rebounding record with 769, which she upped to 780 in a game against 3A No. 2 Norwell Wednesday night.

Long before that, she was a 7-year-old girl with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“It just hit me really quick, and we noticed I was really tired,” Ellie Snep said.

At first, her parents thought she had mononucleosis. A trip to the doctor, though, resulted in bloodwork and an eventual cancer diagnosis.

Dee Snep, Ellie’s mother, was grateful their family doctor caught the cancer early. However, she described the diagnosis as a “complete shock” to the whole family.

“It’s just not anything you ever expect to have for your child,” she said.

Around the time of her 8th birthday, Ellie began chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. The treatment was set to last for two years.

There were many trips back and forth to Indianapolis, until the treatments were moved to a closer hospital in Fort Wayne.

Ellie’s mother stayed with her much of the time, as her father had to work and then take care of her siblings at night.

Though the long process was tough on her family members, they were supportive throughout.

“We knew instantly we had to be strong for Ellie, and in turn that made her strong and she was brave through everything,” Dee said.

Ellie didn’t complain. In fact, her biggest fear was of losing her hair from chemotherapy.

“Going to school, what would people think?” she said.

Her fears proved needless; she received overwhelming support from South Whitley Elementary School.

“They made me feel welcome,” Ellie said. “It was scary at the time, but I just had to keep faith and know everything would be OK.”

Specifically, she held steadfast to her belief in God.

“I knew he had me in his hands, and had a healing hand on me,” she said. “So, I just know when I have faith I can do anything.”

“Anything” included not only attending school as much as she could, but also playing basketball and softball.

That’s right; in between chemotherapy sessions, Ellie Snep pulled a James Conner, the cancer-surviving running back of the Pittsburgh Steelers. She laced up her sneakers and hit the playing fields.

“She didn’t let it affect her,” Dee said. “She was sick a lot, but she just wanted to be Ellie through it all.”

For the 8-year-old, there was no other way to be.

“Back then, I was tougher than I am now,” Ellie said. “I just put it in my mind like, ‘Why not? I’ve been given the ability to do this still.’”

Some of Ellie’s chemotherapy treatments were tougher than others. Though she didn’t fully comprehend the gravity of her situation, she knew what it felt like to endure sickness and spinal taps.

However, by 2010, she was gaining more energy. She eventually got the news that her cancer was in remission.

“(I was) just kind of like, ‘Can I finally be a kid again?’” she said.

Ellie continued to play sports as she got older. Her battle with cancer transformed her into a stoic presence on the basketball court and softball diamond.

“When she’s on the court or on the softball diamond, she very rarely shows emotion,” Dee said. “She just stays at one level. That’s a blessing that came out of (her cancer battle), her good attitude and that mental toughness that she has.”

Snep, who has been a standout on Whitko’s varsity team for the past two years, decided early that she would contribute on the boards.

“I’m not an obvious offensive threat, so I gotta find something else to do to make myself more efficient,” she said.

She benefited from assistant coaches Emily Christoffel (formerly Emily Bidwell), who graduated from Whitko in 2009, and Monica Kitrush, a 2001 Whitko graduate.

“She’s really had the drive to rebound herself,” Christoffel said. “We really just worked on teaching her more of the basic fundamentals of how to properly rebound, but she’s always just been a go-getter to have the mentality of rebounding, and she does it so effortlessly.”

Snep’s “effortless” rebounding led her to earn Whitko’s single-season boards record as a junior. She broke Christoffel’s record of 243 boards with a mark of 347.

She may just break her own record this year, as her current rebound tally is 245. It would be the second record she’s set on the season, following her eclipsing of 1996 graduate Rachel Brown’s record of 767 career rebounds in Whitko’s 43-37 loss to Rochester Saturday.

“I did this, but it’s really a team (effort),” Ellie Snep said. “They’ve helped me, they’ve made me better.”

Though she started on varsity as a sophomore, the majority of her rebounds have come during her junior and senior seasons.

“Essentially, she’s broken the school record over the course of two seasons which is really, really remarkable,” said Whitko head coach Rick Bragg.

The Lady Wildcats have struggled this year; they’re 3-14 and have struggled with a small roster. They’ve played the past two games with four players on the floor in each fourth quarter.

Regardless of any hardship, or maybe because of it, Ellie has shown her trademark toughness.

“I just think of the other kids, what they’re going through,” Ellie said. “Like, ‘you’re not in a hard position right now. Think of everybody else that’s going through things.’”

She goes to the doctor each year to be tested for cancer, and still is in remission.

She said that since she’s passed the five-year mark, a recurrence of cancer is unlikely.

Ellie will play softball in the spring, after which she’ll graduate. She hopes to play softball in college, but is unsure of her specific career path.

“I want to help kids,” she said.

It’s not hard to imagine Ellie in such a role, helping children who are in the midst of seemingly crushing adversity.

After all, she knows well the value of a strong rebound.