Stellar Mustang hoping for one more run

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Sarah Tarbert has notched a double-double in every game this season, including her 33-point, 16-rebound performance against Hood on January 18.
Stevenson athletics photo


Sara Tarbert is the MAC Commonwealth player of the week. Again. It’s her seventh such honor of the season, and it’s only appropriate for her to have won the award this week.

Tarbert scored her 2,000th collegiate point Saturday in Stevenson’s win over Widener, a testament to four years chock-full of player-of-the-week-type weeks spanning two schools and two NCAA divisions. She’s scored 30 or more points four times this year, hammered Widener for 49 in the schools’ first meeting this year back in December and has recorded a double-double in every game this season.

Not bad for someone who entered college just hoping to fit in eventually on the court.

“Usually, you go into your freshman year and you’re like, ‘Just play well and do your time, and you’ll earn your playing time when you’re an upperclassman,’” Tarbert said the day after her milestone basket. “I’m very fortunate and I’m grateful for my experience, that I’ve been so successful.”

The Mustangs are grateful for her, too. Coach Jackie Boswell recruited the 6-1 post player out of Kennard-Dale, near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, but lost her when Division I UMBC offered her a full scholarship. A little more than a year later …

“I was sitting at my desk when I got the call,” Boswell said. “We had just gotten a junior-college point guard (Ty Bender). We just needed one more piece. We needed another scorer. The next day, I got the call from (Tarbert’s) AAU coach, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’”

Tarbert had started every game as a freshman for the Retrievers and was named America East rookie of the year as the conference’s fourth-leading scorer. Still, she knew she was in the wrong place. UMBC did not offer a major in nursing, Tarbert’s future field of endeavor – she is planning to work in pediatric oncology. Stevenson does. That was reason enough for Tarbert to head to Owings Mills.

“You’re 17 years old and you get that Division I offer,” she said. “That’s why you play AAU. You want that Division I ride. That’s everyone’s dream. That’s your parents’ dream. It was a dream of mine to go Division I, and I pretty much got blinded by it. It was for basketball reasons. It wasn’t for academic reasons.”

Tarbert credits her coaches at UMBC for being understanding of, if disappointed by, her decision to leave. She said they helped her through the process. She also credits them for helping her become the player who hit that milestone Saturday.

“In high school, I really did not shoot the three,” she said. “Even in AAU. When I was recruited by UMBC, they told me I had to work on my outside shooting. I’m grateful they had me do that. It’s really expanded my game. I was always a four or a five. It’s more fun in that I’m not just a one-dimensional player.”

The abundance of big players in Division I pushed Tarbert out to more of a small-forward position. She is back to being a 4/5 type at Stevenson, but she is hardly found only under the rim.

“Her size has a lot to do with (her success),” Boswell said, “but she’s got a lot of versatility, too. We want post players who can run the floor. Very rarely do we have a post player who can’t get up and down, and she can. It makes her tough to guard.”

The basket that gave Tarbert the milesone was a simple post-up move, with Tarbert getting position on her defender and taking a pass from sophomore Jonyae Curry from the wing. A better representation of her game came late in the half, when she took a feed on the right, beyond the arc. She made no shot fake, but still a Widener defender came flying out at her. She drove past her to the left, paused in the lane, and, when a low-post defender came to help out, accelerated past her for a barely contested reverse layup. She ended the game with 27 points.

She has been racking up big scoring numbers since her first year at Stevenson. That year she and Bender, in their only season together, both earned all-conference honors (first-team for Tarbert, second for Bender) as the Mustangs won the Commonwealth championship and played in and won their first NCAA Tournament game. The Mustangs’ fortunes dipped slightly last year, but they still won a first-round Commonwealth tournament game, then swept through the ECAC South tournament.

Now, with Curry a budding star – “She’s going to be a great player; she just doesn’t know it yet,” Boswell said – and freshman Hannah Crist having a promising season at point guard, Tarbert is hoping the Mustangs can repeat their success of two years ago. Their win over Widener was their eighth in 10 games. The two losses came in the previous two games, against the league’s two top teams, Messiah and Albright. The Mustangs can clinch the third seed by winning the rest of their games, which would put them on track to go to Messiah for the conference semifinals, the same scenario they experienced a year ago.

Whatever kind of run they make, they’ll owe a lot of it not just to Tarbert’s points and rebounds, but her leadership.

“She leads by example,” said senior Kameron Ward, who has been Tarbert’s teammate all four years, at UMBC and Stevenson. “That’s very important to the other players. She encourages the rest of the players to step up their games, and makes everyone want to step up. Everyone on the team really likes her and looks up to her.”

Tarbert’s numbers have usually dwarfed those of everyone around her, but she never forgets that she does it all in the context of a team sport.

“At the end of every press conference, she always gives the credit to her teammates,” Boswell said. “When they’re making shots, other teams can’t double-team her, and she knows that leaves her one-on-one, where no one can guard her. She knows the credit for that goes to her teammates.”

It is, after all, her teammates that mean more to her than any other aspect of basketball.

“Records are records,” Tarbert said. “They’ll always get broken. But when basketball is done, I’ll have relationships that will last a lifetime.”

Phil Soto-Ortiz

Phil Soto-Ortiz has been a play-by-play sportscaster for basketball, football and lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall College since 2010, and has also called games at Division II St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and at high schools around Connecticut. He writes the annual Centennial College football preview for's Kickoff publication and has covered sports for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News and several dailies and weeklies in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He graduated from Syracuse University, where he called the play-by-play of the women?s basketball team's games, including their last win over the UConn Huskies.
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