The summer before Zach Turner coached his first game with Covenant Day girls’ basketball team, former Lions’ athletic director, Mark Jones told him “his best player was probably still in middle school.”
Jones was referring to Sarah Billiard, who was not only in eighth-grade, but hadn’t even made the varsity team, yet. She was the starting point guard on the Covenant Day J.V. team in seventh grade.
Coach Turner admits he wanted to see for himself and got his answer the first time he saw Billiard play in the first open gym of the 2012 summer.
“I remember thinking to myself, there’s no way she’s (Billiard) that good, because she wasn’t even in high school yet,” Turner said. “But the first time I saw Sarah in that open gym, I knew I had a player that was going to be great. She didn’t really do anything eye-opening that day; she was just relentless. You could see by the way she walked on the court, that she knew what was she was doing and she was confident in her game.”
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Fast forward five years later and Jones’ and Turner’s words have turned out to be prophetic, as Billiard has transformed herself into an all-state forward, putting up points, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots at a dizzying pace.
Billiard had an immediate impact on the Lions’ varsity team as an 8th-grader, averaging 7.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, when she was just 13 years old.
She has increased her production on the court each season, averaging 17.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game as a freshman;15.9 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per contest as a sophomore and 15.9 points, 14.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks as a junior.
But, the 6-foot forward has taken her game to an even higher level as a senior, averaging a career-best 19.5 points, 18.2 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game.
The most ironic thing about her success on the basketball court is that it isn’t even her main sport, as Billiard is an All-American and all-state volleyball star for Covenant Day (and Carolina Juniors Volleyball club team), who signed to play at the University of Virginia Nov. 14.
“My goal every time I step on the court — basketball or volleyball — is to play my best for my team,” Billiard said. “It’s been so cool to be able to play both sports for Covenant Day with a lot of my best friends. I know my future is on the volleyball court and I know I made the right choice. But sometimes, I do wonder what would have happened if I had gone down the basketball path.”
While Billiard, 17, was named all-state (third time) and All-American (by Under Armour) in her final high school volleyball season, she is also making sure to take advantage of every minute she has left on the basketball court, too.
She already has 11 double-doubles in 12 games and has five or more blocks in eight different contests.
For Billiard, nearly every game has been a big game from the start of her senior season.
She opened the season with 21 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks in a 40-39 victory over Durham Academy, where she made the game-winning shot and then stole a pass with six seconds left and dribbled out the clock.
Billiard has continued to put up eye-popping performances, as she also had 25 points, 25 rebounds and seven blocks in a 44-42 win over Marvin Ridge on Nov. 23.
She eclipsed both the 1,500-point mark and 1,300-rebound mark in the same game in a 48-20 win over High Point Christian, where she poured in 22 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, had six steals and five blocks.
She also averaged 20 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks in three games in as many days to help Covenant Day win the BSN Queen City Clash tournament at Charlotte Country Day, Dec. 21-23.
Billiard had her best game of the tournament in the championship game, with 23 points, 24 rebounds and seven blocks in a 46-25 defeat of Independence.
“Honestly, when our games are over and I look at the box score, I look at all the other players first (not Billiard),” Turner said. “Then, I look at Sarah’s numbers and I’m like: ‘Oh yeah, she had 20 (points) and 20 (rebounds). It’s crazy, but I almost expect Sarah to put up those numbers. That is how good she is. ...
“She is so good at so many things, she doesn’t just play one position; we tell her to just play basketball. She can actually play all five positions. I tell her all the time, ‘You are the best player on the court, now go do something with it.’”
“My dad (Jody Billiard) usually shows me the stats after the game is over,” Billiard said. “I look at the numbers quickly to see how efficiently I played, but once a game is over, it’s over. I’m already moving on to the next game. I always want to be better than I was the last game for my team.”
Billiard says she has enjoyed her senior season because of the “close team,” where most of the girls have played together since middle school.
This Covenant Day girls’ basketball team is on pace to have their best season (8-5 through Jan. 8) in Billiard’s career.
That all starts with a trio of senior co-captains (Billiard, along with classmates Carlee Pierce and Amanda Stone), who are all four-year starters. Sophomore, Madeline Crumpler and junior, Alexis Klohr, have also played big roles.
“I love playing for this team and with my teammates. We’ve had a great start to the season and it’s been a lot of fun,” Billiard said. “…It’s crazy that my time at Covenant Day is coming to an end; it makes me sad every day. I think about what senior night is going to be like a lot. I’m not ready for my basketball career to be over. ...
“But at the same time, I’m looking forward to college and the next step in my (athletic) career.”
Billiard’s relentless competitive drive is a constant motivator no matter what court she is playing, as well as in the classroom, where she holds a 3.98 grade-point average and is in the BETA Club, National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society.
But what she is doing, “her goal is to be No. 1”
“Everything is always a competition for me, all of the time,” Billiard said. “Whether it’s sports or school, I love competing and being around other great players (or students). My love of competition is what keep me focused, because I always want to be No. 1. There’s always someone out there better than you, and that keeps me motivated to work harder.”
Coach Turner says Billiard’s competitive nature, on and off the court, is what will continue to help her succeed in life.
“Sarah just catches onto things quickly; if she were playing soccer or swimming, she’d be all-state in that, too,” said Turner, noting she could have been a Division basketball player. “But I think what make her so great, is that she is coachable and so humble. She’s never thought of herself as the best player on the court. She doesn’t care about numbers; she just wants to win. ...
“Her whole mentality is what’s going to help her be great at whatever she chooses to do in the future - in her career and in her life.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.