‘I knew I wanted to be in this community’: Schwagmeyer-Belger brings instant credibility to JWCC women’s basketball coaching job

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Ali Schwagmeyer-Belger addresses the crowd gathered Friday at John Wood Community College's Student Activity Center after she was formally introduced as JWCC's new women's basketball coach. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — With a limited window between John Wood Community College calling a press conference and Ali Schwagmeyer-Belger being introduced as the new women’s basketball coach — less than 24 hours in fact — she didn’t expect much of a crowd to gather Friday afternoon.

Seeing family, friends and her high school coach in attendance made her smile with delight.

“I’m not the person I am today just out of thin air,” said Schwagmeyer-Belger, who grew up in Camp Point, graduated from Quincy University and has coached an AAU girls basketball team in West-Central Illinois. “I had such a good support system from my mom to all of my siblings. Then I go to Central and I’m involved in a program that has such good values and played for Coach (Matt) Long, which further instilled those great values. 

“There have been hard times in my life, and I’m grateful because if I didn’t have those people putting good values and high character in me I wouldn’t have gotten through that. That’s why community is so important to me, because I am the person I am today because of God and the people that He surrounded me with.”

Her community in basketball and beyond is excited to see what she can do at the helm of the JWCC program.

Six weeks after Lauren Bogle resigned as the women’s basketball coach, Schwagmeyer-Belger officially became the fourth head coach in the history of the program when she signed her contract this week. Friday was the official public acknowledgement of her hire, but Schwagmeyer-Belger began grinding days earlier.

The Trail Blazers went 17-13 last season, but the roster needs to be revamped with just two returning players.

“I’ve already started,” said Schwagmeyer-Belger, who began contacting recruits as soon as an agreement was reached. “It’s intense right now. I have to try to make something happen.”

It shouldn’t take long, considering how connected and influential she has been in this region.

Schwagmeyer-Belger scored 1,950 points in her high school career for the Central-Southeastern co-op and was a two-time all-state selection who graduated in 2008. She was the program’s all-time leading scorer when she graduated, a mark since broken by Laney Lantz during the 2018-19 season.

After two years at Charleston Southern, Schwagmeyer-Belger transferred to Quincy University, where she was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s Player of the Year during her junior season in 2010-11 and was a first-team All-GLVC selection as a senior.

As a junior, she led the GLVC in scoring at 17.8 points, averaged 6.6 rebounds and topped the Hawks with 121 assists and 45 steals. As a senior, she averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds to go along with 86 assists and 56 steals. She earned first-team All-Midwest Region honors both seasons.

She played professionally overseas in Germany, Spain and Australia, averaging double figures in scoring and earning all-star honors playing in Perth, Australia. She also served as an assistant coach at Hannibal-LaGrange University during that time.

Schwagmeyer-Belger and her husband, former Quincy University point guard Courtney Belger, run the 25 Eight Mentality AAU program. His support in chasing this coaching dream was as important as any received along the way.

“No matter what I do, Courtney is always going to support me,” Schwagmeyer-Belger said. “That’s my superpower. I have him behind me every step of the way. Sometimes I think he believes in me more than I believe in myself. To have that is huge.”

Chasing the JWCC job wasn’t the easiest decision to make.

Plans were in place for Schwagmeyer-Belger to replace Matt Long as the head coach of the Central-Southeastern girls program when that time comes. But the opportunity to coach at the collegiate level in the Adams County community she loves was intriguing.

When JWCC made it a full-time position, she knew she needed to pursue it.

“It allows me to come here and immerse myself into the John Wood Community College experience,” Schwagmeyer-Belger said.

Still, walking away from the coaching gig at Central-Southeastern was difficult, especially with a niece joining the program as a freshman this fall.

“So I didn’t pursue it at first,” Schwagmeyer-Belger said of the JWCC. “They reached out to me. After they reached out to me, I was still a little bit nervous. I never want to let people down, and Central has treated me so well and I have a tremendous relationship with Coach Long and the players there.

“It was a really tough decision for me. After I interviewed and met with the administration and the staff and President Renfro, I was like, ‘This is such a cool environment to be in.’ I saw the vision they had with moving coaches to full-time spots we can immerse ourselves in the college.

“I wanted to be a part of that and help grow that.”

And she wanted to do that in a place that felt like home.

“I knew I wanted to be around my family because I had been gone so long,” Schwagmeyer-Belger said. “I knew I wanted to be in this community.”

New John Wood Community College women’s basketball coach Ali Schwagmeyer-Belger laughs at a comment made during her introductory press conference Friday in the Student Activity Center. | Matt Schuckman photo

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