Home Court Advantage

In the gym lobby an hour before a lifting session with her basketball team, Sarah Sullivan checked her Fitbit. Her heart rate was 64 beats per minute. She was surprised, she said, because it had been 82 on the way in for our interview.

“I get anxious and nervous sometimes.” The fitness tracker, she said, was a convenient way to monitor not only her daily steps, but also her pulse—a high tech way to make sure she keeps calm, to balance her athletic prowess with a level demeanor. It’s that blend, however, the enthusiastic Williston varsity star and the reserved student, that truly defines Sarah.

A 17-year-old boarding student from Sheffield, MA, Sarah scored 30 points, had four blocks, and 11 rebounds to help the Wildcats beat Buckingham Browne & Nichols in the championship of the Ray Brown Holiday Tournament in December. On Jan. 6 against Berkshire School, she put up 20 points, went six-for-six from the foul line, and finished with 10 rebounds.

The following weeks, against Deerfield, Hotchkiss, and Westminster, saw Sarah, who at slightly over six feet plays either center or power forward depending on where she’s needed, furthered her impressive streak; as of January 26, she has 766 points.

Following this impressive streak, Sarah, who’s only a junior, became the record holder for the most double-doubles in a season, at 10. (A double-double means double digits in two categories; typically that means points and either rebounds and assists, but it could also include blocks and steals.)

Sarah had no idea she’d broken the record.

“I just play, I don’t keep track of that,” she said. With the slightest sense of red creeping into her cheeks and forehead, she added, “It feels amazing. It’s a little overwhelming. I don’t know, I’m kind of shocked, I don’t really think about stuff like that. It’s kind of cool to break a record.”

Sarah’s quiet demeanor around campus is a stark contrast to her ferocity once she steps on court.

“On court I have more confidence in my abilities,” she said. “I’m not afraid to take on a challenge. In practice I’m loud and jumping up and down and excited. At school, I’m just quiet and I don’t really say much in class. I’m literally two completely different people.”

There’s a comfort, a freeing lack of care she feels while competing, Sarah said, even to a gym packed full of fans.

“The basketball court just feels like a home,” Sarah said. “It’s easy to be myself and just jump around and get hyped and do ridiculous things without caring what other people think.”

Other people do care, however, and they do notice. This became clear as the girls varsity hockey team filed into the lobby.

“She’s very vocal on the court,” said Caroline DiFiore, a senior and Sarah’s roommate. “She’s aggressive, very hands-on, she goes for all the rebounds and blocks.”

Put more succinctly by freshman Kate McDermott: “She’s a superstar.”

Sarah, of course, also wasn’t aware that she’s on the way to racking up 1,000 points for her career. As a junior.

“That would be exciting,” said senior Gabby Jones. “I’d be on the roof for that!”

Sarah shrugged off her friends’ praise and any talk of scoring records. “I don’t think about that,” she said. “We just take it play by play, I see what to do in the moment, how I can help my teammates. I just want to do my best to help my team get a win.”

She did admit that as a co-captain (along with seniors Madison Fulcher-Melendy and Fiona Bundy), her mental toughness and leadership skills both on and off the court have improved. She’s committed, she said, to living up to what’s expected of her: “to be a good student, a good all-around person, and treat everyone with respect.”

Head coach Amber Rodgers has taken notice.

“She’s a tremendous athlete, works hard, and is disciplined,” said Rodgers, who coaches alongside Janine Whipple. “She’s been a great captain for us this year leads by example on and off the court. Sarah works tirelessly to improve her game, and elevate the play of her teammates. She has been a relentless force offensively and defensively for us this season.”

Rodgers noted that along with averaging 19 points a game and consistently finishing with more than 10 rebounds, “She holds herself and her team to a high standard, all while having a lot of fun on the court.

That sense of healthy competition, sportsmanship, and respect was instilled in Sarah early on.

“Growing up, everything was sports,” she said. Her father, Tom, played golf and is now a golf pro at Wyantenuck Country Club in Great Barrington, MA. Her mother, Kathy, grew up playing basketball, field hockey, running track, and throwing the javelin. Her younger brother, Ryan, is currently at Monument Mount Regional High School in Great Barrington.

After she leaves Williston, Sarah wants to play Division 2 basketball, possibly in the Northeast-10 Conference, which includes Saint Anselm, Merrimack, Southern New Hampshire, Stonehill, Bentley, Franklin Pierce, Assumption, and Saint Michael’s.

Maybe she could make Division 1, Sarah thought, but “I feel like D1 is more of a job, and I don’t want to make basketball a job.”

“I love it,” she added, “but I think at times I need a break from it. I’m not going to do basketball forever, just want to make it a fun hobby for the time being, and when I’m done I’m done.”

A teammate, junior Gates MacPherson stopped by. I asked Sarah about her heart rate.

“Fifty seven!” She exclaimed. “It’s because Gates showed up,” she said.

“I’m a calming presence,” Gates joked.

If your home is where you’re meant to feel the most comfortable, the most like yourself, with no judgement and nothing to do but what you love, then the Williston gym, surrounded by teammates, is home indeed.