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Girls basketball: Sterling stars eager to pay lessons forward

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Kiarra Harris (shooting) is now a senior leader for the Sterling Golden Warriors, who open the season Monday.
Kiarra Harris (shooting) is now a senior leader for the Sterling Golden Warriors, who open the season Monday.

In Kaitlyn Bauer’s words, “in the blink” of an eye, she went from being a sophomore to a senior.

Now she and Kiarra Harris, another Sterling senior and 3-year varsity player on the girls basketball team, aren’t batting an eye at the opportunity to pay forward the lessons they learned 2 years ago.

“I feel as a sophomore on varsity, we always had someone to look up to, and someone to push us,” Harris said. “We wanted to be like them and play like them. Now we have the young kids looking up at us in terms of how they play and how they react. It’s a big step for us.”

Bauer’s model of Warriorhood was Aleena Hammelman.

“Just her passion for the game brought me a long way,” Bauer said. “Her love for the game, her hustle in practice every day? I try my best to fill in her shoes.”

Hammelman was one of three major pieces – along with point guard Paige Lobdell and gritty forward Ashli King – whom Warriors coach Julie Schroeder needed to replace last season.

This year, the tricky hole to fill in will be at shooting guard, with the graduation of sharp-shooter Stephanie Kester. Her school record-setting 3-point barrage helped the Warriors stun Rockford Lutheran and reach a 3A sectional final this past February.

But the versatile Harris, by appearances a forward at 5-foot-11, has broadened her game. She already showed a penchant for snaring rebounds and going coast-to-coast last season. 

Harris credits her “big basketball family,” which includes her aunt Marge, a member of the 1976-77 state championship team, for making her so strong with the ball.

“That’s a big thing for me, to be like her and play like my aunt,” Harris said. “I’ve always had to control the ball playing at home. It just came with time, I guess. It’s a great rush to bring the ball up the court.”

While Schroeder said Kester will be replaced “by committee,” when forced, the coach put Harris at the top of her list of shooters this time around.

But Harris, who Schroeder says has grown by leaps and bounds in terms of making her teammates better, deferred when asked to name the best replacement for Kester.

“Gabby [Sandoval] has stepped up big-time,” Harris said, “staying after practice for shooting drills and shooting 3s. Now they’re finally falling. It’s gonna be a great season.”

Sandoval worked exhaustively with Harris in the summertime on outside shooting and didn’t balk at accepting the nomination as top shooter.

Well, at least sharing it.

“Me and Kiarra are going to have to take that role,” Sandoval said. “Just keep on shooting, whether it’s during practice, after or in a game. Just keep shooting.”

Like Harris and Bauer, Sandoval was thrust into a key role as a sophomore. Perhaps the most important role in Sterling lore, actually.

“Gabby really grew up in her own last year, being a starting point guard as a sophomore – in our program, that’s a really big accomplishment,” Sandoval said. “She stepped into her own by the end of it and really figured it out.”

“Now, I don’t know if she’ll play point guard for us 24-7 this year. I’d like to get her out on the wing a little bit. Her game has grown immensely, in her ability to take the ball to the basket, and her ability to run the floor and see the floor.”

Sandoval has embraced the role of leader, upperclassmen and…driver.

“Last year, I was always the underclassman, and I always had to get rides everywhere,” she said. “Now I can drive, and it’s so weird to think that so much has changed in just a year. I’ll pick up anyone who needs a ride, because I know how it feels.”

2013-14 Sterling Warriors

Coach: Julie Schroeder (7th season, 123-69)

2013-14: 21-13, 9-1, tied for NIB-12 West title

Advancement: Lost 49-26 to Burlington Central in 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional final

Key losses: Stephanie Kester, G; McKenna Pearson, G; Bailey Oetting, F

Key returners: Kiarra Harris, sr. F; Kaitlyn Bauer, sr. F; Gabby Sandoval, jr. G

Opener: at Stillman Valley, 7:30 p.m. Monday

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