When you watch the Whittier Regional High girls basketball team, one player stands out.
At more than 6 feet tall and with long, flowing dreadlocks, freshman Sammie Vonleh catches your eye immediately. Vonleh is by far the tallest girl on the court in almost every game she plays. While her talent is still raw, coach Kevin Bradley can see the untapped potential she has.
"She's still learning the ball game," Bradley said. "She's already come a real long way this season."
The rise has been quick for the 6- foot, 4 inch Vonleh, who said she did not even expect to make the varsity squad as a freshman. She was used sparingly in the first half of the season. She would come off the bench, and play in games where the outcome was not in doubt. Bradley felt this was a good method to get Vonleh accustomed to the game.
Despite her size, Vonleh has been playing basketball for just three years. She is still hesitant about where she is supposed to be positioned and does not have complete basketball instincts quite yet.
"We're trying to get her out of her shyness," Bradley said. "If freshmen can give you any time (in games), it's a bonus and she's already provided that."
In a game at the midpoint of the season, Vonleh played the most minutes she had all year and exploded for 27 points on Jan. 18 during a win against Greater Lawrence. She followed that performance up two days later with 17 points in just three quarters against Malden Catholic.
"She was a lot more confident in those games," Bradley said. "She's been learning about where to position her body for the shot so she can grab those offensive rebounds for putbacks. The more she realizes she's capable of something, the more she steps up."