By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Sydney Hunter couldn’t wait to fulfill her dream of playing college basketball so on the first day of the early signing period, Wednesday, Nov. 9, she put pen to paper.
The McNary senior, who averaged 10.8 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals per game for the Lady Celts last season, signed with the University of San Diego.
“I made my decision pretty early,” Hunter said. “I didn’t want to wait any longer to officially sign. I wanted to get it over with. Knowing that I’m going to San Diego makes it less stressful. I can play stress free and that makes it way easier.”
Hunter began playing basketball in kindergarten but the game has been in her life even longer. Her older sister, by five years, Devin, was also a star at McNary before signing with Oregon State.
“Growing up watching Devin, I wanted to be just like her,” Hunter said. “I just remember this (signing day) was so cool, all her friends and teachers were there. I wanted to do this so bad. She’s a great player. I’ve always been compared to her, growing up. I wanted to show people that I’m not just Devin Hunter’s sister. I’m Sydney Hunter. I’ve got my own name. I want to make my own story for myself. It pushed me to work harder than usual.”
While Hunter admitted Devin is “way stronger” thanks to four years in the Oregon State weight room, Sydney claimed she’s the better shooter.
“We just have different things that we’re better at than each other,” Hunter said. “She (Devin) was pretty scrawny before college. I am pretty small so I’m excited to get some weight on me.”
San Diego first got in contact with Hunter early in her high school career. Coaches then came to McNary to watch her play volleyball during her junior season. Hunter visited the campus and committed to the Lady Toreros program last summer.
“I just fell in love with San Diego after I went there,” Hunter said. “It was amazing. The first thing I wanted to see was the teammates because coming from where I’ve grown up with all the girls I’ve played with I wanted to feel that chemistry and the girls that go to San Diego were amazing. They made me feel welcome and I love the coaching staff.”
According to McNary head coach Derick Handley, what makes Hunter special is the combination of being a great athlete and a hard worker.
“The reality is Sydney is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the opportunity of coaching,” Handley said.
“She’s the best pure athlete I’ve ever coached, there’s no question, but she’s also the kid that you don’t see behind the door, she’s the one putting up shots by herself. She’s working extra hours in the gym and she’s not doing that because the crowd is going to see it or the coaches want to see it, she understands that elite athletes have to put in the work. What she’s getting is deserved. She wasn’t just born into it. She worked her tail off for it. The fact that she is signing D-I today, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who’s had the opportunity to coach with her, to play with her or just to see her perform.”
Hunter, who will be a team captain for the third time this season, is also a leader.
“She’s very supportive of her teammates,” Handley said. “She’s the first to criticize herself. She understands when she makes a mistake and if I were to say that Sydney had a flaw, I would say sometimes she’s too hard on herself. She expects perfection every time she goes out there. As a head coach, that’s a dream. That’s exactly what you want to see out of your best players, is they set the tone, not only how they treat their teammates but the expectations they hold themselves to.
“I could never ask for a better representative for our program, for our school, for our community. Her teammates would say the same thing. San Diego is really lucky to be getting her.”
San Diego plays in the West Coast Conference with the likes of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara.
The Lady Toreros finished 25-8 last season, which was the second most wins in program history, and lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16 round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.