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Sierra Sanson is hard-nosed leader for Shawnee girls basketball

“She’s had to earn every bit of success that she’s had," coach Chrissy McGovern says.

Shawnee's Sierra Sanson drives against Winslow Township.
Shawnee's Sierra Sanson drives against Winslow Township.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Sierra Sanson said she can’t envision her life without basketball. She’ll play it in college at Gettysburg, and even beyond that she sees herself as a coach on some level someday.

“I just love the game that much,” she said.

Chrissy McGovern, Sanson’s coach on the Shawnee girls’ basketball team, uses Sanson as an example to the other players on her team.

“She’s had to earn every bit of success that she’s had — she really had to work for it,” McGovern said. “She’s hard-nosed, she’s tough, and I think the best thing about Sierra is that she’s the kind of kid who wants what’s best for her teammates.”

All of this — her love of the game, and the intensity with which she approaches it — helps paint the picture of Sanson’s rise over the last two seasons.

In ninth grade, she was on the freshman team. In her sophomore year, she saw sparse varsity minutes. But her junior year and now, into her senior season, she has been the leading scorer on a team that has emerged as one of the best in South Jersey.

Sanson averaged 13.1 points last year and is averaging 17.1 through four games this season for the Renegades.

“She really has gotten better and better every season,” McGovern said. “And it goes back to her sophomore season when it got to the point where she would play so hard every time I put her in a game that I really couldn’t take her out.”

Sanson’s natural position is guard, and it’s where she’ll play in college. But she plays in the low post for the Renegades for no other reason than that’s where her team needs her.

“At the beginning of the year, she came to me and told me, ‘Coach, I’ll play wherever you need to me play, I’ll play’” McGovern said.

It’s tougher, more physical work. But the 5-foot-8 Sanson doesn’t seem to mind.

“At the end of the day, I want to win,” she said.

Sanson embodies the personality of her team. Last year, the Renegades thrived with an underdog, come-from-behind mentality. The team sported dog masks — channeling the Eagles’ Super Bowl run — after upsetting Bishop Eustace in the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament semifinals. The Renegades carried that attitude into the postseason when they made a run to the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals, falling by two points to eventual champion Toms River North.

The team’s knack for rising in big games carried into this season when a 50-32 win over Bishop Eustace on opening day sent a clear message that Shawnee is a team to be watched this season.

“A lot of it came down to our defense,” Sanson said. “When we play tough defense, we know we can win games.”

Sanson credits her rise to hard work and her love for the game — and her confidence in herself, which she said has only grown since her freshman year. She started taking AAU basketball more seriously after her freshman season, and worked harder on her game in her spare time.

And the fact that she did all of this while also starring in net for Shawnee’s girls’ soccer team only underscores her work ethic in general.

This year, Shawnee plays one of the toughest regular season schedules in South Jersey, and South Jersey Group 4 will once again be one of the state’s deepest sectional brackets.

The Renegades will take all of this on without a marquee name or superstar on their roster.

Instead, they will rely on players like Sanson — the ones who fought their way into the conversation on South Jersey’s top players, and intend to take that fight even further this season.

“I want to lead by example,” Sanson said. “Everybody on the team is excited for this season — we just have to stay focused.”