Senior Sahara Hill has filled many roles in her time at Foster. This year she is taking on one of the few she hasn’t: teacher.
“This year the focus is still kind of on me,” she said. “But now it’s more of me helping my team out. I have a responsibility to work with each individual to help improve their skills. I’ll do anything I can to help them.”
Hill made the all-Seamount first team last season after finishing third in the league with 18.8 points per game. She led the league in rebounding (14.1 per game), finished fifth in blocks (1.3), fourth in steals (5.0) and second in free throws attempted (209). She finished with two triple-doubles and 16 double-doubles. It’s safe to say she was one of the league’s best players. But this season she has her work cut out for her with a young group, featuring just three seniors.
“It can be tedious and frustrating,” Hill said. “But I know how coaches feel now. And it helps because I can figure out what I really know and what I’ve learned and how to turn that around to help them.”
The Bulldogs’ other seniors are guards Bianca Benavides and Chris Balansang. Benavides was third on the team in scoring last season at 7.4 points per game. She earned all-Seamount honorable mention. Her 3.2 assists per game led the team. Balansang averaged 4.5 points per game last year.
Foster stumbled out of the gate to an 0-3 start while key players missed games. Benevides missed the first two games, something which hampered the team’s development in the present, though it did provide a backup point guard Janaya Williams some valuable time on the floor.
“It’s tough when you don’t have your point guard,” coach Datri Elliott said. “But it’s kind of cool that Janaya is getting actual game time and repetitions. She’s just a freshman so she has a lot of time to grow.”
Elliot said having Benavides back will make all the difference for this team.
“Once our three seniors jive and get the jitters out, we’ll be fine,” Elliot said of Benavides. “That’s like our missing link to everything. She’s our captain on the court. Without her we were struggling.”
Elliot said she would rather have the team suffer a slow start, instead of going through a similar rough patch during the more crucial parts of the season later on.
Beyond the three seniors, key players are juniors Kirsten Goins and Priscilla Donkor. Goins has improved greatly since last season and has Elliot expecting big things.
“She’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” she said.
Goins, 5-foot-10, picked up 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 points per game in limited action last year. Donkor stands at 5-foot-11 and is entering just her second year of playing basketball.
The team’s biggest lost from last year’s state-tournament team is junior Shantell Jackson. Jackson, who transferred, was second on the team with 16.1 points and 10.5 points per game. She provided a valuable second scoring option to Hill, who defenses often focus on. Without Jackson, Elliot expects Goins and Benavides to pick up the scoring slack behind Hill.
For now, the biggest work is on building the team’s chemistry and bringing the younger players up to speed with the veteran group.
“There’s a lot of patience involved,” Balansang said. “There’s a lot on us to carry the time, and it’s a pretty big challenge.”
Foster gave a glimpse of what the team can do when it’s running at full steam Dec. 13 when it beat Kennedy Catholic 69-68 in overtime. The Lancers have been to state every year since 2001 and won the 3A state title in 2009.
The Bulldogs faced Evergreen Dec. 16, then get back to Seamount competition Jan. 4.
“My goal is still to go to state,” Hill said. “Even if I have to carry them on my back.”We’ll get it together by midseason.”