PITTSBURG — Stepping into the role of starting point guard for the Pittsburg State women’s basketball team at the beginning of the season, Paige Imhoff finally got the opportunity she had waited her entire playing career for.

After three years of playing behind former Gorilla point guard Hadyn Herlocker, Imhoff slid into the starting lineup her senior season and has made the most of her opportunity.

“I think right now, Paige is one of our best players because of the way she handles the basketball,” PSU head coach Lane Lord said. “She leads the conference in assists with an average of seven per game and only has 27 turnovers. She’s been a great leader for us and has waited for her turn in our program. She’s always been a backup, but now that it’s her time, she’s really taken advantage of it.”

Throughout her three seasons as a reserve, Imhoff used the time to grow as a player and contribute to the team as much as she could with the time she was given.

“Obviously, not playing a lot through my first three years was hard, but playing behind Hadyn was the best thing for me,” Imhoff said. “I fell right into the position I was comfortable with after watching Hadyn and play against her in practice for three years. Now as a senior, I’m filling that role that she had and leading the underclassmen who will soon be taking over the role.”

Lord said Imhoff’s personality has always been to put the team first, which matches her unselfish style of play on the court.

“She’s a great team player,” he said. “When you come to Pittsburg State, you have to understand the culture of the program, and she does. You have to understand that you may just be the next man up when someone goes down, but you have to contribute in any way you can until you have the opportunity to start and she has done everything we’ve asked of her. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She waited and never complained, and now that it’s her time, I can’t wait to see what she does with the rest of the season.”

Imhoff plays so unselfishly, the coaching staff forces her to take more shots.

“My job is to get my teammates open shots,” Imhoff said. “Coach Lord has challenged me to score more, but I’ve never done that growing up. I’ve always been a pass-first player. We have scorers, but he’s told me that my teammates aren’t going to get as many open shots if the defense knows I’m not a threat. I have to be more of a threat this year than I’ve ever been before.”

Coming out of high school in Smithville, Mo., Imhoff wasn’t sure what the future held, but she said committing to Pittsburg State was the best decision she could have made.

“I actually had no idea what I wanted to do after high school,” Imhoff said. “I had no preference and didn’t really know what I was going to do. Coach [Amanda] Davied and coach Lord really pursued me and that made it an easy decision. When I visited PSU for the first time, I loved the girls that were here could tell it was a very family-oriented team.”

Outside of basketball, Imhoff said she enjoys reading and spending time on the water.

“I’ve gotten into photography a lot the past couple years,” Imhoff said. “I don’t really have a lot of free time, but I enjoy reading and being outside. I enjoy water skiing and wakeboarding at the lake. Just hanging out on the boat is a lot of fun.”

Although Imhoff enjoys her free time during the summer, she’s spends a lot of time in the offseason in the gym.

“I train as much as I can during the offseason,” Imhoff said. “This past offseason, I did a lot more because I knew I would be stepping into a much larger role. I work a lot on shooting and dribbling — specifically with my left hand to get more confident using it.”

With the end of her collegiate career just around the corner, Imhoff plans to finish the season strong, graduate next semester and then begin adjusting to a new lifestyle.

“I’m not sure what I will do after graduating,” Imhoff said. “I’ll probably go home and take some time off to travel a little bit. I’ve been on a schedule my entire life, so I’m looking forward to going to places I’ve never been to.. I’m luck that basketball has allowed me to travel around, but it will be nice to do my own thing outside of the game.”

 — Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at jbuckamneer@morningsun.net and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.