Jennie Sunnarborg Rintala now earns living in Australia
by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
When Jennie Sunnarborg graduated from South Dakota State University last summer and got married in September, she thought her days of playing competitive basketball was over. She has played basketball since a very young age and enjoyed stellar careers at Osseo High and SDSU. After graduating from college, she played in a league at the Minneapolis YWCA but she missed the competitiveness of high-level hoops.
“I wanted to keep playing after college but thought the possibility of playing was over,” said Rintala, a 2008 Osseo High School graduate. “I had to complete my schooling with a summer internship and after getting married in September I thought the moment had passed.”
Then out of the blue, Sunnarborg (now Jennie Rintala) received an offer to play professional basketball in Australia.
The offer came from Craig Mansfield, coach of the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, which is a professional team in the Women’s State Basketball League (SBL) located in Perth, on the west coast of Australia.
“Craig contacted my college coach at SDSU, Aaron Johnston (AJ),” Rintala explained. “Craig was a graduate assistant at University of North Dakota for the women’s basketball program in 2003 to 2005, so he was familiar with the SDSU Jackrabbits. So when thinking about his team for the upcoming season he sent out emails to well known and successful colleges who recently had graduates who played a power forward position and had a stellar senior year.”
That description fits the 6-2 Rintala to a T. She just completed a brilliant four-year career at SDSU during which she established herself as one of the best power forwards in school history. Rintala was a strong rebounder and intimidating shot blocker at Osseo High. She played in two state tournaments and in her senior season led Osseo to a memorable stunning upset of undefeated and No. 1 ranked Centennial in the section championship game.
SDSU was Rintala’s home for the next four years and her game took a giant leap. She became a dominating force at both ends of the court and finished fourth in career blocked shots with 112 and 23rd in career scoring with 1,232 points. Rintala led the Jackrabbits to two regular season championship titles, four consecutive conference tournament championships, four straight NCAA tournament appearances and 97 career wins. In her senior season, she was named Strength and Conditioning Female Athlete of the Year and honored with the 2012 Outstanding Jackrabbit Award.
When Mansfield contacted Rintala and offered her the chance to play professional ball, it was an offer she could not refuse. She discussed it with her husband, Ryan, who was very supportive and decided to go with Jennie to Perth.
“Ryan was a huge support to me and knew my passion for the game,” Rintala said. “It could not have come at a better time and when the opportunity presented itself it was too valuable to pass up. The opportunity for us to begin our live together as newlyweds, traveling to the opposite side of the world is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Rintalas arrived in Perth Feb. 12. She missed the first few weeks of training so it was a challenge to get back into basketball shape but she had about a month worth of training to get ready for the first game. The regular season runs from the middle of February to the end of August. Playoffs start the beginning of September.
Rintala is learning quickly about the league and her teammates.
“There are 12 teams in our league and we play just around Western Australia,” she said. “Some of the teams have at least one player from the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), which is a higher competitive league. Most of our girls are locals from the Western Australia area. We do have one other American, who is from Wisconsin and played at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Some WNBA players from the states will come over and play in this league during the off-season. SBL can be pretty competitive yet it’s hard to compare it to college.”
According to former longtime Osseo Hall of Fame coach Dave Thorpe, Rintala is only the second female Oriole to play professional basketball. Hana Peljto, who led Osseo to the 2000 state championship and later starred at Harvard, played professionally in Europe.
Basketball is now a job for Rintala but she and her husband still find time to explore Perth and the surrounding area. Adapting to the new city isn’t hard because Perth reminds Rintala of Minneapolis.
“Perth is very similar to Minneapolis in terms of looks and city feel,” she said. “It has a bunch a tall skyscrapers, is very modern, multicultural and is an isolated city. It has a ton of coastline and beaches. The Swan River runs right in the middle of Perth.”
Rintala’s club takes great care of the players, providing the couple with housing right in town.
“We are very fortunate the club is providing us with our own apartment just a block away from the river in South Perth,” Rintala said. “It’s fully furnished which was nice to only have to pack necessities. It’s an amazing location, you can just about walk anywhere.”
The club also provides a car, which allows the young couple to explore their new hometown.
“Don’t worry we have become accustomed to drive on the opposite side of the car and road,” Rintala said with a smile.
For Rintala, the most difficult part of this exciting new journey is to leave behind families and friends.
“It wasn’t easy to just pick up and move around the world,” she said. “To leave family and friends was going to be something we had to cope with and Skype goes a long way, literally.”
But overall, this opportunity to continue to play the game she loves professionally in Australia is a dream come true for Rintala.
“It is such a great opportunity,” she said. “To continue my basketball career and to live in a whole new country is an amazing experience. We knew it would be well worth it.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]