Zach Turner first heard about a talented seventh-grade point guard named Sarah Billiard shortly after taking the head girls’ basketball coaching job at Covenant Day two years ago.Lions Athletic Director Mark Jones, also an assistant coach for the Covenant Day girls’ basketball team, raved about the potential of Billiard so much that Turner had a hard time believing the hype.“At first, I really didn’t believe that she was that good as a seventh-grader,” said Turner, a former Charlotte Christian basketball player. “But the first time I saw her play in an open gym, I saw just how good she was and I was shocked.“Sarah just knows how to play basketball; she has that instinct, that knack for the game. I knew right then, in that open gym, that she was not only a good player but someone with great potential.”Billiard didn’t disappoint Turner in his first year as head coach last season. She made the Covenant Day varsity team as an eighth-grader, averaging 7.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 assists per game for a 12-14 Lions squad. Billiard, then 13, had her ups and downs and shot only 38 percent from the field. But her all-around ability earned her a spot in the starting lineup later in the season. Her versatility and ability to play and guard all five positions also made her invaluable from the start.“It was definitely an adjustment to play up as an eighth-grader on the varsity level,” Billiard said. “But I learned a lot about my game – when to pass it, when to dribble, when to shoot it. I felt a lot more comfortable by the end of season and going into my freshman year.”Her comfort level on the court also was a lot better because of the presence of her older sister and best friend, Hannah Billiard, now a junior. While Hannah and Sarah have had many one-on-one sibling battles, they enjoy working together.“We love playing together, and we are telepathic – we know where each other are going to be, and when we are hot and when are not,” said Sarah Billiard, who admitted Hannah usually wins their one-on-one games. “Hannah has had a lot to do with everything I do on the court.”“Hannah and Sarah are really tight. Even though they aren’t twins, they act like twins. They are always together,” Turner said. “You can tell Sarah has learned a lot from Hannah, and it has helped her grow up quicker.”While Hannah Billiard is having a strong junior season (seven points, 10 rebounds per game), Sarah Billiard, 14, is playing even better in her freshman year, averaging 18 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks per game for the Lions (11-12, 6-5 through Feb. 3).Sarah Billiard has scored in double figures in 22 of 24 games, including eight 20-plus-point performances and a season-high 28 points in a win against Metrolina Christian.While Billiard usually plays small forward, at 5-foot-11 she can play every position on the court, already has a 28-inch vertical jump and can touch the rim.Turner isn’t surprised by her success, but Billiard didn’t expect to be this good this fast.“I’m definitely surprised at how well I have played this year, because I didn’t even know if I would start,” Billiard said. “But I try not get caught up in the stats or what I’ve done. I just try to get better every day and keep working on my game.”Billiard also has had a lot of success on the volleyball court. The All-Metrolina Athletic Conference outside-hitter helped lead the Lions to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A state championship match before they fell to Charlotte Country Day. Billiard had 386 kills, 32 aces, 37 blocks and 89 digs for the Lions as a freshman last fall.She also plays for the Carolina Junior Volleyball club 15U team year-round.Turner says Billiard already is on the college recruiting radar, with interest from coaches in both sports. Her hectic schedule often has her going from volleyball practices or games to the same in basketball.“I just love playing basketball,” Billiard said. “I don’t like to miss anything if I can help it. The busier I am, the better for me.”The Billiard sisters get help from senior point guard Hailey Manns (6.8 ppg), sophomore shooting guard Erica VanDusen and freshman forward Carlee Pierce (4.4 rebounds per game), who round out the starting lineup.With four of five starters returning next year, things are looking good for Covenant Day when it joins the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association with Cannon, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin and Providence Day next season.Billiard will be a big piece to the puzzle for the next three years.“I don’t think Sarah has an idea how good she can be, and I tell her that all the time,” Turner said. “I don’t think she quite believes how good she is now. But I think she will learn and get better and better.“Sometimes, I still have to remind myself that she is a freshman.”
Friday, Feb. 07, 2014
Freshman Sarah Billiard is having a major impact on the basketball court for Covenant Day
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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