Tonawanda News — The tale is a familiar one: a talented high school athlete performs well at the junior varsity level, makes varsity as a sophomore and carves out a long and successful athletic career.
However, this tale has a twist. The athlete, in this case, did make varsity as a sophomore, but she hardly played as a 10th-grader. When she became ready to contribute, she not only played well, but dominated.
Savanna Baughman, a senior center-forward for the Tonawanda Lady Warriors, took the road less traveled to becoming one of the best players in ECIC IV. Having played exceptionally well for the Warriors’ JV team, she attempted to make the Warriors’ varsity roster in 2011. She succeeded, but when she found out what her role would be, she wasn’t pleased — at first.
“I would second-guess myself,” Baughman said. “I kept asking myself, 'What am I doing wrong? I'm trying to improve every day and I'm still not getting that much playing time.' But our team was great. I just opened my eyes and finally realized, 'Hey, I'll get my time next year.”
Warriors coach Jay Hall said that despite the talent that a player like Baughman had, he knew that she wasn't ready for the spotlight, and that sitting and learning from older players would do wonders for her development.
“When we see people who have talent, we try to bring them along slowly so that way they won't be thrown into the mix too soon,” Hall said. “Savanna learned from watching and practicing against a lot of former players, and I think it made a tremendous impact on her development."
Some of those former players, like former All-Western New York selection Tina Partridge, Kendra O'Connor and Joanna McCarthy, made the biggest impact on Baughman by making her add more elements to her repertoire.
“They were taller than I am and they were stronger than me too,” Baughman said. “Going against them every day in practice and watching them in games forced me to bring more physicality to my game and become a stronger player. It also helped me become a better defensive player, because it taught me how to guard bigger players.”
Another element that Baughman learned from the upperclassmen was the ability to lead a team, which eventually led to her being named team captain before the start of her senior year.
“This year, Savanna knew that there was going to be more on her shoulders with her becoming a senior and more players looking to her for leadership, and she's excelled in that department,” Hall said. “She makes all of our defensive calls on the court, and she's a smart communicator. Savanna can point out little things to other players during games and tell them where to go and knows how to push her teammates. She's become a great leader for us.”
All of the watching and learning paid off for Baughman, as she has become the key cog in the Warriors' drive for a third consecutive ECIC IV title. She has become a consistent candidate to lead the Warriors in scoring and rebounds every night, and has put up multiple double-doubles throughout the season.
With graduation and a basketball career at Hilbert College in sight, Baughman knows that the future is bright for her. However, she is focusing on ending her high school career with one more ECIC IV championship and by leading the Warriors on a deep playoff run.
“It would mean a lot to be able to go out on a positive note like that,” Baughman said. “We're such a hard-working group. Even though we've won ECIC the last two years, once we would get to sectionals, we would lose. It's kind of a damper on what we've accomplished, so if we could win in sectionals and go farther in the playoffs, it would be an amazing way to go out.”
“I think it would be a great accomplishment for her and for our team if we were to advance past sectionals,” he said. “Not to make excuses, but we've faced some adversity once the playoffs would roll around the last couple of years. I hope we can get some luck on our side this year and advance deeper, because there's no better way to go out than on top, especially for a great girl like her.”Follow @tonanewssports on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.