‘A’ Top Senior
ELKTON — One of Sarah Cameron’s nicknames just got a lot more ironic.
The East Rockingham High School senior was sometimes mockingly called “Eeyore” by her girls’ basketball teammates if she was off on her shot in practice, referring to the “Winnie the Pooh” donkey.
Now, Cameron is a state Athlete of the Year.
Cameron, a key member of the Division 1 state title Eagles’ basketball team and a standout girls’ tennis player this season, was named the Group A Female Athlete of the Year by the Virginia High School League this week.
ERHS submitted Cameron for the award, which is reserved for seniors and was voted on by select principals, media representatives and VHSL staff. She gets a $1,500 scholarship and will be honored at a banquet in Charlottesville on May 12.
“I was not expecting that,” Cameron said. “…At the state [basketball] tournament, the back of the [media guide] has scholarship winners for VHSL stuff, and I had took a glance at that because I knew I was applying for it, and I saw that most of those kids had, like, 15 or 16 athletic letters, and I was like, ‘I don’t have a chance now that I see these!’ I was just shocked.”
Cameron has gotten a few college recruiting letters, too, though.
It’s been a gratifying week for the 5-foot-9 Cameron, as she will also sign a national letter of intent to play tennis at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan at 2:15 p.m. today at East Rock. She chose college tennis over basketball, where she was being recruited by, among other schools, D-II Davis & Elkins, and D-III Bridgewater College and Ferrum.
She’ll get a part-athletic, part-academic scholarship at WVW – located in nearby Buckhannon, W.Va., which is coincidentally where she was born – and has additional monetary incentives for good grades and for cracking the team’s top four in singles, she said.
College tennis was a recent development for Cameron, who said she had her heart set on basketball until this tennis season started. But within a couple of high-school matches this season, she changed her mind, citing concerns from an injury-plagued basketball career, including a knee blowout as a junior.
“I’m tired of battling injuries,” said Cameron, also noting that tennis is a sport she can play her entire life. “…I’m excited that I’m playing a sport where I don’t have to worry about getting hit and injured by other people. I mean, yeah, certainly I can tear up my knee in a heartbeat [playing tennis], but it’s a lot less likely.”
Listening to the rash of injuries she’s fought through during high school, it’s an understandable perspective. You only have to look at Cameron’s striped tan lines on her right leg as a result of the braces she wears – “I look like a zebra,” she said – to get a sense of her fragility.
As a sophomore, a stress fracture in her left foot cost her most of the Eagle basketball team’s playoff run, which was stopped in the state semifinals.
She recovered to win two tennis state titles – a doubles title with then-junior Allison Michael, and a team title for ERHS’s first-ever team state championship. The next year, she got off to a fast start in basketball, leading her team in scoring early in the season. But then she suffered her most debilitating injury of all, blowing out her right knee – tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus – during practice midway through East Rock’s season. The season ended with a state championship, but Cameron only watched from the bench. She also missed the entire tennis season and a chance to defend her doubles title with Michael.
At the start of this basketball season, she battled ligament tears in a badly sprained right ankle. Meanwhile, she was constantly nervous about re-injuring her knee following nine months of extensive physical therapy.
“That was the hardest part, to watch her struggle through that mentally, and a lot of times throughout the season doubt herself whether she could make that cut or make that move,” ERHS girls’ basketball coach Paul Comer said. “We cringed every time she went down, and she went down several times.”
And yet, she scored 11.3 points per game (tied for second on the team) and led the Eagles with 6.6 rebounds, earning second-team All-Region B honors. She also won the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s Claudia Dodson Award earlier this year, a statewide comeback player of the year honor.
Her tennis prowess, though, might trump basketball. It also gives her a more flattering team nickname: “Sarahpova,” playing off famous Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova.
After not playing a match in nearly two years – since she won the doubles title with Michael as a sophomore – Cameron has lost just one singles match this season and no doubles matches while teaming with junior Stacie Bailey. In fact, she hasn’t lost a doubles match in her tennis career, which also includes her freshman year at Spotswood.
Cameron – the daughter of Larry Cameron, the assistant girls’ tennis coach at ERHS, and Kim Cameron – didn’t start playing tennis until high school. She’s never even taken a tennis lesson.
But her potential, she said, is why West Virginia Wesleyan coach Marc Walters – formerly the coach at West Virginia University, in his first season at WVW – only needed to watch Cameron hit on campus and view a couple of practice films to offer her a roster spot. And it is why ERHS coach Alyssa Beam believes she can have a “fabulous” college career.
“She’s very much a natural-born athlete,” said Beam, a former tennis player at Bridgewater College. “She picks up things so easily.
“…I told her and her dad as well that where Sarah was compared to where I was in high school is just unreal,” Beam said. “She has surpassed me. When I went in at Bridgewater, I went in with not near the amount of knowledge that she has.”