DIETERICH — Candace Niemerg was brought up in a Dieterich basketball family. Her father, Duane, and older brothers Craig and Cory had all donned the maroon and gold before Niemerg first got her shot at the varsity level.
Upon entering Dieterich as a freshman in 2009, Niemerg was nervous, hoping she could simply live up to the family name.
"I always grew up around basketball," she said. "My brothers all played, my dad was pretty good. I just wanted to be as good as they were, and I hope that I made them proud."
Over the next four years, Niemerg went above and beyond all expectations. The multi-talented center was a three-time selection on the EDN all-area team and picked up third-team IBCA Class 1A/2A all-state honors this winter during her phenomal senior campaign.
On Monday, Niemerg announced that her playing days were not over yet, as she committed to play for coach David Johnson and the Lakers of nearby Lake Land College in Mattoon.
"The thing that I really liked is that she is very much a team player," Johnson said. "She seems to do whatever the team needs. She's demonstrated she's not only a great scorer, but she's also a great rebounder."
Niemerg's do-it-all skills allowed her to join an elite club this season. The Dieterich leader topped 1,000 career points during her junior year, then followed that up with breaking the 1,000 career rebound mark as a senior. She finished with 1,592 points and 1,295 rebounds, eye-popping stats that have Johnson anxious to get her on campus.
"We're very excited," he said. "I think she'll be able to help us (with) rebounding, number one. Number two, her versatility. She can use both hands around the basket really well. Anytime we can get a player that scored 1,000 points in high school, that's just an added bonus."
Johnson wasn't the only coach that came calling. Niemerg said she heard from plenty of other junior colleges like Parkland and Olney, but was also recruited by four-year institutions Illinois Wesleyan and Millikin. In the end, Niemerg said Lake Land just felt right.
"I know it's a good school and I know that they're a pretty successful team," she said. "It's close to home, and that's good because I didn't really want to move far away. Overall, it just seemed like a really good fit."
Less than an hour due north on state Route 45, the Lake Land campus figures to have plenty of Dieterich faithfuls packing the gym on game nights.
"I'm excited about that," Niemerg said. "I think it will be good to have fans from my high school years be able to come and see me play, that will make it fun, too."
Lady Maroons head coach Donetta Ohnesorge agreed, saying Lake Land offered Niemerg a chance to continue playing in front of friends and family.
"I think she's going to get a lot of support from our community," Ohnesorge said. "I think this is what suited her best right now."
Ohnesorge knows Lake Land is getting a good one in Niemerg, and said her star center definitely left her mark on the Dieterich program. This past season, Niemerg led Dieterich to its first-ever regional title with a 42-26 victory over St. Anthony on Feb. 7, cementing her role in Lady Maroon history.
"Candace was a jewel," she said. "She started as a freshman and she's left a lot of memories; it's going to be something that people will always remember."
Niemerg said that it will be different leaving the close, comforting confines of Dieterich High School, but that she's more than ready for the challenges ahead at Lake Land.
"It's going to be hard, I put in so much time playing here (at Dieterich)," she said. "It's going to be a whole new group of girls. It's going to be a big change, but I'm ready for a big change."
Johnson is ready for that change, too.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.