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Senior-Laden Sage Hill Girls Seeking More Basketball Glory

Senior-Laden Sage Hill Girls Seeking More Basketball Glory

(L-R) Sophomore Amalia Holguin (10), and seniors Kat Righeimer (11), Annabelle Spotts (15), Emily Eadie (1), and Zoie Lamkin (13), Sage Hill High School’s girls’ basketball team starting lineup. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

12/18/2023

Updated: 12/26/2023

NEWPORT COAST, Calif.—Given the already-impressive nature of their collective resume, it stands to reason that the core members of Sage Hill High School’s girls’ basketball team would harbor lofty aspirations.
As freshmen in 2021, Annabelle Spotts, Zoie Lamkin, Emily Eadie, and Kat Righeimer helped the Lightning to the CIF Southern Section Division 3-AA championship. A year later, they won the CIF Division 2 state title, and then last season advanced to state in the Open Division, comprised of California’s elite teams.
The four, now seniors, are embracing the challenge of producing a fitting encore before they head off to their respective college destinations. Including heady sophomore point guard Amalia Holguin, highly regarded incoming transfer student Aurora Elder, and a talented collection of younger depth players, the Sage Hill roster features seemingly limitless possibilities.
Sage Hill High School sophomore Amalia Holguin. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Sage Hill High School sophomore Amalia Holguin. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

“Honestly, it’s really exciting to have those types of expectations because we have them for ourselves, too,” Spotts told The Epoch Times after the Lightning improved its record to 9–1 with a 68–56 victory over visiting South Medford of Oregon on Dec. 13. “We know we can get there, if we just keep pushing each other, pushing ourselves.”
Sage Hill’s only loss was to a familiar foe, Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Monarchs prevailed, 74–64, in a Dec. 8 semifinal matchup at the Troy Classic in Fullerton, after also having beaten the Lightning, 59–44, in the opening round of last season’s state tournament.
Should the teams meet again in post-season play, Sage Hill figures to be better equipped because of the impending addition of Elder, a 6-foot-3 senior who previously played at Riverside Poly.
Having honored the mandatory sit-out period for transfers, Elder will be eligible after Christmas. She figures to debut Dec. 28 when Sage Hill travels to the Bay Area to face Oakland Tech in the opening round of the West Coast Jamboree in Pleasanton.
Sage Hill High School senior Zoie Lamkin. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Sage Hill High School senior Zoie Lamkin. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Fitting another top-flight player into the rotation might seem like a potential challenge in terms of team chemistry, but Lightning Coach Kerwin Walters isn’t the least bit concerned.
“Aurora has been working with us all fall,” Mr. Walters told The Epoch Times. “The girls love her, and they know what value she brings. There won’t be an iota of anything [negative] when she comes to play. They know this is the next stage of us.”
The next stage also includes the continued development of reserves such as freshman Kamdyn Klamberg and sophomore Alyssa Cuff.
“To be honest, we’re just scratching the surface of what we can be,” Mr. Walters said. “We’re not close yet. We’re still trying to figure out substitution patterns and trying to get minutes for all the girls on our bench that can impact the game.”
The added depth provided by Elder’s arrival and the anticipated growth of Klamberg and Cuff should help Sage Hill deal with situations such as what arose in the latest loss to Mater Dei, when significant foul trouble proved to be insurmountable.
Sage Hill High School senior Emily Eadie (C). (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Sage Hill High School senior Emily Eadie (C). (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Experience is already on Sage Hill’s side, what with the presence of Spotts, Lamkin, Eadie, and Righeimer, who have played together since their youth basketball days.
“Obviously, on the court, the chemistry is going to be stronger than maybe other teams because I’ve been with these girls for years now before high school,” Lamkin told The Epoch Times. “Off the court, I think of these girls as my best friends, and I see them being people that I’m friends with in my future. It’s just a different chemistry that I don’t think is comparable to a lot of people.”
The veteran presence and resulting cohesion are especially valuable in tight situations, such as when South Medford shaved a 14-point deficit to just three early in the fourth quarter. Sparked by two buckets, the first a 3-pointer, and an assist from Holguin, the Lightning responded with a 13–2 spurt in a span of 2:48 to regain full control.
“This is something we’ve been going through for all four of my years,” Lamkin said. “I feel like if there’s a game where we’re down, we know how to get ourselves together and come back and make sure we secure the game. That’s just something we’ve built over the years.”
The team also features a remarkably balanced scoring attack that makes it impossible for the opposition to key on one or two players. Against South Medford, Holguin scored a team-high 15 points. Spotts, Lamkin, and Righeimer had 11 apiece, while Eadie and Klamberg had nine each. The per-game scoring averages for the team’s five starters are within about two points of each other, Walters said.
Sage Hill High School senior Kat Righeimer. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Sage Hill High School senior Kat Righeimer. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

It is an intangible quality, however, that might be the most important.
“I think the biggest part is their desire to win,” Mr. Walters said. “Our girls are pretty skilled, and when the lights come on, they battle.”
Currently ranked fourth, two spots behind Mater Dei, in both the Southern Section and the state, according to MaxPreps.com, the Lightning might get a shot at top-ranked Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, the nation’s No. 6 team, in the West Coast Jamboree.
Sage Hill is also looking forward to seeing “the East Coast juggernauts” during a Jan. 12–15 visit to Washington, D.C. for the prestigious St. James Classic.
“To be considered one of the best teams in not just the state, but in the country, that’s what drives them,” Mr. Walters said. “If we do everything we’re supposed to, we love the position we’re going to be in by the end of the year.”
And come post-season, the goals figure to take on an even sharper focus.
“I mean, we expect to make a really strong run,” Spotts said. “If we play well together, share the ball, and get everyone involved—since we have so much talent on our team and we need to utilize everyone—if we do that, I expect to, I don’t know, maybe win a couple of championships, put a couple of banners up.”
Sage Hill High School senior Annabelle Spotts. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

Sage Hill High School senior Annabelle Spotts. (Courtesy of Kerwin Walters)

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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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