Basketball

Blanchet's Sophia Poole grows into leader, lifts team

Sophia Poole may be the most decorated yet overlooked basketball player in the state.

When she first walked onto the court for Blanchet Catholic School’s girls basketball team, the 5-foot-7 senior guard was the player who would light up scoreboards by dropping prolific point totals every night.

Blanchet's Sophia Poole (15) shoots a three-pointer in the final minute of a game against Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Blanchet’s Sophia Poole (15) shoots a three-pointer in the final minute of a game against Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

But in the past two years Poole has transformed herself into someone who is more than just about numbers, but a strong leader who can be counted on to hit clutch shots – and handle the ball – in tight games.

It’s taken time – and a solid supporting cast that has been built around her – to have Poole help Blanchet (8-1 overall, 1-0 PacWest Conference) emerge as one of the top Class 3A teams in the state.

“She’s our team captain,” said sophomore Bailey Hittner. “We trust her with our team. We trust everyone really.”

A year ago Poole would pass the ball away when the game was on the line. Now she wants the ball.

“I would say I’m pretty confident when I get the ball in those situations,” said Poole, who scored 13 points and hit four 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 42-40 upset of No. 1 ranked and previously undefeated Salem Academy (11-1).

“Yeah, definitely throughout the years of playing varsity basketball, I’ve grown in that I’m trusting in my teammates and having them trust in me to make good plays.”

Blanchet fans cheer as Sophia Poole (15) scores a three-pointer in the final minute of a game against Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Blanchet fans cheer as Sophia Poole (15) scores a three-pointer in the final minute of a game against Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

A second-team all-league player as a freshman and first-team all-league and third-team all-state as a sophomore, Poole has welcomed the change in that she didn’t have to carry the team offensively with the emergence of players like Ana Coronado and Hittner.

Though her numbers were down as a junior – Poole averaged 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 75 percent from the free throw line and 46 percent from 3-point range – she was first-team all-PacWest Conference again and honorable mention all-state.

“It meant that she didn’t have to score 18, 20 points a game for us,” Blanchet coach Ron Hittner said. “So the big stats she had the first couple years are now the 12, 13, 14, but she’s done such a great job as a leader recognizing that she has others around her who can score.

“I think she does get overlooked a lot because she does a lot more for us than scoring. Her leadership at the end and decision making was huge. We the ball in her hands and trust her. We always have the ball in her hands at the end of the game and we trust her.”

In Wednesday’s game against Salem Academy, Poole’s accuracy from long range – she was 4 of 6 from 3-point range – kept the Cavaliers in the game against a potent zone defense by the Crusaders.

But it was the 3-pointer she nailed off an inbounds play with 24 seconds left that gave the Cavaliers their biggest win of the season.

“It was her night tonight,” sophomore Ana Coronado said. “She was on, and we trusted her more than anything to make that shot.”

In previous seasons when Poole was in similar situations, she often deferred to teammates.

Most importantly, she’s become the player Blanchet needs when games are on the line.

“That was a big shot,” Hittner said. “And the play that we drew up there, it didn’t break down, they got a little I think mixed up on their defense, which caused her to be wide open.

“And to her credit in the past she might have pulled it back out, that’s not what coach called, but that’s as good of a shot as we’re going to get. A wide open 3 and she nailed it. She’s just grown from freshman year to senior year to really being a complete player now.”

Blanchet's Ana Coronado (23) passes to teammate Kalea Salang (30) in a game against rival Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Blanchet’s Ana Coronado (23) passes to teammate Kalea Salang (30) in a game against rival Salem Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Box score: 

Blanchet 42, Salem Academy 40

Blanchet: Sophia Poole 13, Hittner 8, Phipps 6, Salang 6, Coronado 5, Collier 2, Ostby 2, Elmore. Ttoals 15 3-6 42.

Salem Academy: Aimee Smith 14, S. Brown 10, Standridge 6, Campbel 3, G. Brown 3, Baker 2, Hardy 2, Larsen. Totals 14 7-7 40.

BLA 14 7 8 17-42

SA 6 11 7 13-40

3-point goals: Blanchet 7 (Poole 4, Hittner 2, Coronado); Salem Academy 2 (Smith, Campbel).

Reach Bill Poehler at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or follow him @bpoehler

More on prep sports:

Five high school sports stories to watch in 2017
McKay defeats McMinnville 80-79 in GVC boys hoops

Blanchet's Sophia Poole (15) dribbles the ball around Salem Academy defense on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Blanchet’s Sophia Poole (15) dribbles the ball around Salem Academy defense on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Salem Academy's Sydney Brown goes up for a basket in a game against Blanchet on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

Salem Academy’s Sydney Brown goes up for a basket in a game against Blanchet on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 at Salem Academy. No. 4-ranked Blanchet defeated No. 1 Salem Academy 42-40 in the PacWest Conference game.

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