Barnum drives

Hilltop's Sara Barnum (right) drives to the basket while Swanton's Katie Floyd tries to defend during a nonconference girls basketball game on Dec. 8 at Hilltop High School.

WEST UNITY — Sara Barnum and the Hilltop girls basketball team have heard people say, “Hilltop doesn’t have this, Hilltop doesn’t have that,” especially since not winning once during the 2017-18 season, Barnum’s freshman year.

“That’s our motivation,” Barnum said. “We want to prove them wrong by saying, ‘Oh yeah? We can do this and we’re Hilltop, we can do it.’”

The Cadets are proving those who’ve said that wrong this season. Hilltop is 5-2, including 3-0 in the Buckeye Border Conference, as of Sunday and one win away from tying last year’s total (6-17, 2-10 BBC).

“It’s amazing,” Barnum said. “It feels so good to be able to come out this year and — especially with COVID-19 and everything — to be able to play. Coach (Troy) Grime always tells us, ‘Play like it’s your last game,’ and I feel like a lot of girls have taken that to heart.

“I especially have, and I feel like we’re really motivated this year.”

Barnum is one of the reasons why Hilltop is off to a hot start. The 5-foot-6 senior guard is one of three three-year senior letterwinners — including Kodi Brenner and Americus Maddox — that has seen the program go through thick and thin.

“I’ve said this before, I couldn’t be more proud of the three seniors we have for sticking around, sticking to the program and help take steps in the right direction, which I think we have from their first year as freshmen up to their senior year,” Grime said. “And she’s a big part of it as well. The easiest thing would’ve been to walk away after a couple years with one win her first two years, but she stuck with it.”

Grime said Barnum is the team’s “Swiss Army knife” and is able to play any position at any time, whether it’s at point guard, a wing position or even as a big.

“As far as her basketball IQ, she knows what’s going on. She knows the plays, she can run any spot, which is nice,” Grime said. “You can put her as a big out there if you want. Maybe not the best place for her, but if we get in a pinch, she knows, she understands the game.”

With underclassmen performing well too, Barnum has seen her minutes diminish a little. But Grime said he hasn’t heard any complaints out of her.

“And as a senior, she’s accepted her role because we’ve got a little bit more players. We’ve got some added depth up there,” Grime said. “And I know players want to play, but she’s accepted her role. Her minutes have gone down a little bit this year, but she’s accepted it.”

Barnum has seen community support since she was young. She became interested in basketball after going to her older brother’s (Jakob) youth and middle school games as a kid. It’s what drew her to play basketball in the first place.

“When the whole community showed support, it just meant something to me how much support was there for all the players and everything,” Barnum said. “But even starting up from a young age and starting up shows how much people are there to support you and their love of the game of basketball.”

Barnum is also a utility player in softball, and earned all-BBC first-team honors in 2019 after the Cadets went 18-8 and won the BBC crown by going 11-1.

“I’ve always had a passion for softball,” Barnum said. “My dad was a baseball coach when I was younger, so I’ve been around softball more than I have basketball.”

But when the spring season was canceled in late April because of the coronavirus pandemic, Barnum admitted she “cried a little bit.”

However, that’s turned into more motivation for Barnum and her softball teammates.

“I feel like taking that (season) away from us is going to encourage us more this year to come out even stronger,” Barnum said.

Barnum is also the senior class four county representative at Hilltop High School, in the Drug Free Clubs of America at the Four County Career Center and is one of two representatives in her lab that deals with juniors’ issues.

“It just makes a person feel better when people are coming to them and asking questions,” Barnum said. “And you may not even know the question, but it makes yourself feel better going out and helping someone else with their day or even with something they’re doing.”

She also plans to go into the nursing program at Owens Community College. Before that, though, Barnum wants to finish atop the BBC in basketball and softball — and to keep getting the community’s support.

“(I) just want the community to keep up the support,” Barnum said. “Just seeing those posts on Facebook about how they’re watching our games online, it just means a lot to us girls.”

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