Sami Slaughter’s varsity basketball career technically began her freshman year at the Class AA state tournament in Brookings.
It lasted all of 47 seconds.
“I was playing defense backwards, so I came right back out,” Slaughter laughed.
“It was a big moment for a young kid, let’s just put it that way,” Harrisburg coach Nick Mayer lightheartedly added. “It probably wasn’t the best thing for us coaches to just throw her in there, but we wanted to see, sink or swim. She’s obviously gotten a lot better since that first go-round.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Class AA state tournaments
It was a rather inauspicious start for Slaughter, but the coaching staff recognized it had something special in the six-foot tall freshman.
“It was kind of a work in progress,” Mayer said. “We knew we had a talent with her and knew we could do a lot of things with her. But physically, we were just kind of waiting for all that to happen.”
A year later, Slaughter cracked the starting lineup where she has remained ever since, racking up 790 career points and a program-record 156 blocks.
“To be able to compile that many points, that many blocks in just three seasons is impressive,” Mayer said. “She’s got so many skills and brings so many attributes to our team, it’s been special to be able to coach her, that’s for sure.”
Around the state, Slaughter is best known for her accomplishments on the volleyball court – and understandably so.
She holds program-records for kills in a match (39), season kills (458), career kills (1,205) and career blocks (304).
In the state championship match against Roosevelt, she logged a school-record 39 kills, including the one that clinched the decisive fifth set.
“Considering the night Sami had, it had to end that way,” Harrisburg coach Ronette Costain said afterwards. “The kid is amazing. Every time we needed her, she stepped up and she delivered.”
But for as much success as Slaughter has had in volleyball, basketball was her first love. In fact, she thought growing up that she would follow in the footsteps of her dad and two older brothers, all of whom played college basketball.
“Throughout middle school and everything, basketball was my main focus,” said Slaughter, whose mom played college volleyball. “I was obsessed with basketball. Volleyball was just kind of a side thing.”
As an underclassman, Slaughter was able to find time for both sports during the summer. She played basketball for the South Dakota Attack and volleyball with the Kairos Elite. Once the school year arrived, she focused all of her attention on volleyball, before doing the same with basketball in the winter.
Last summer, she finally arrived at a crossroads. With plans to play Division I volleyball, Slaughter decided to drop basketball.
“We understood that Sam had an obligation to volleyball,” Mayer said. “But even after committing and knowing that volleyball was her thing, she still made the effort to come to some of our basketball stuff, which we really appreciated.”
Slaughter capped her high school volleyball career by leading Harrisburg to its first-ever AA title. Now, she hopes to do the same with the basketball team.
“It’s kind of bittersweet knowing that it’s the last one,” said Slaughter, who leads the team in assists and blocks and is second in scoring, steals and rebounds. “It’s just sad thinking that it’s over after this. Everything I’ve pushed for and all the hard work over the years, this is it.
“To end it with a state championship would mean the world.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Earlier this year, Slaughter was named the 2016-17 Gatorade South Dakota Volleyball Player of the Year.
As part of her award, Slaughter received a $1,000 grant to donate to a national or local youth sports organization.
But instead of donating her money to a sports-related group, Slaughter emailed the people in charge of the Gatorade Play It Forward program, asking if she could give her money to Dylan Bourassa, a Harrisburg middle schooler who recently had his leg amputated during a fight against bone cancer.
Jon Klemme (@JonKlemme) February 18, 2017
“I thought it was a really cool story how positive he was with everything,” Slaughter said of Bourassa. “I feel like if I was in that situation, I would be like a Debbie Downer and just think of the bad things that would go on and wrong. But he was really positive about it all. He was kind of like a role model to a lot of people in the Harrisburg community. I thought that was really cool and I really wanted to help him out.”
“We focus a lot on what Sam does on the floor, but it’s what she does off the floor that I think is most important,” Mayer said. “She’s involved in the community, donated a bunch of money to Dylan and his family – just those neat things she’s done, that’s how I’ll remember Sam in our program, just being that leader, that character kid.”
To learn more about Dylan’s story, visit his Facebook Page: “Dylan Strong Supporters.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .