As an environmental sciences major at UC Davis, Sage Stobbart is gaining an ecological understanding that makes her feel more at home than ever in the great outdoors.
Yet ask the redshirt junior forward about the other side of her life as a student-athlete, that of the agile and versatile 6-foot-3 junior forward with the Aggies’ women’s basketball team, and the 2017 grad of North Vancouver’s Seycove Secondary will profess to feeling equally at home indoors, within the cozy confines of the school’s venerable, 5,900-seat gym known simply as The Pavilion.
“I chose this school for a number of reasons, and not just because of its amazing basketball program,” said Stobbart on Wednesday afternoon over the phone while on a break between classes at her school’s northern California campus, located 11 miles west of Sacramento.
“I also picked it because of its academic programs, and for a coaching staff that has been so supportive,” continued Stobbart, whom many will remember for capping her high school career with an MVP performance in the Seyhawks’ B.C. AA championship final win over the Vernon Panthers. “It feels like a second family out here.”
This season, despite enduring a mammoth streak of 13 consecutive cancelled games due to the global pandemic, the resilience of the Aggies has been more than evident.
UC Davis heads into its regular season finale — a two game set Friday ( p.m.) and Saturday (8 p.m.) in Honolulu against the University of Hawaii — leading the NCAA Div. 1 Big West Conference with a perfect 8-0 record. You can click here to watch the games free of charge of Big West TV.
Within that run, Stobbart has revealed levels of her game which were only being hinted at four years ago over her championship season with the Seyhawks.
Primarily a low-block presence with an ability to dominate in the paint as a prep, Stobbart has since morphed into a purist’s true version of an inside-out threat.
Not only is she tied for the Big West lead in blocked shots per game at 1.6, she is also the second most-accurate three-point shooter on the team, connecting at a gaudy 47.6 per cent clip (10-of-21) from distance.
Last season, in fact, Stobbart tied a single-game program record with seven blocks against UC Irvine.
“In the B.C. final in 2017, she was awarded the MVP and the Defensive MVP awards,” remembers Darcy Grant, the former Seyhawks’ head coach who is now at Carson Graham, referencing Stobbart’s 26 point-14 rebound performance in the final.
“She had two threes and she also blocked a lot of shots,” added Grant of her five rejections. “So right at the end of her high school career, she was showing the kind of player she was about to become.”
TAKING HER DEFENCE TO A NEW LEVEL
After taking a redshirt season to begin her college basketball career in the fall of 2017, Sage Stobbart’s game has shown the kind of steady growth which has her standing on solid ground with the rest of the conference’s tall-timbered best.
Tied for third in team scoring at 10.1 ppg, and leading in rebounding average at 7.4, the game’s most traditional metrics accurately position her as one of the team’s key cogs.
Yet suggest to UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross that Stobbart is that rare player who can contribute to team success even when she isn’t scoring, and the longtime Aggies’ bench boss is quick to respond in the affirmative.
“I agree with you that even if Sage isn’t scoring as much on a particular night, she brings so many things to help us win,” Gross told Varsity Letters earlier this week after Stobbart was held scoreless (0-for-6 FG) for the first time this season last Saturday, yet still played a huge role in the Aggies’ 62-53 win and series sweep of the visiting Cal Poly Mustangs.
“She is always one of the most valuable players on the court but sometimes that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” added Gross. “Her presence in the paint, her ability to guard multiple positions, her rebounding, and her overall leadership are just a few things we have come to appreciate and value.”
Ask Gross to get in the details, and she paints the picture of a determined student of the game, noting the feverish nature of Stobbart’s film study.
In the end, that attention to detail paid dividends as she was handed the assignment of guarding the Mustangs’ 6-foot-3 post Sierra Campisano, the Big West’s second-leading scorer at 14.6 ppg, and the conference’s field goal percentage leader at 44 per cent.
In Saturday’s game, Campisano reached double figures with 13 points, but as part of a 4-for-17 outing from the field, Stobbart made her earn every point. Campisano was 4-for-14 last Friday as the Mustangs opened the weekend with a 63-47 loss to Aggies. Stobbart had 11 points and nine rebounds in Friday’s win.
“I had played against Campisano last year, and I really respect her and her game,” said Stobbart. “In the second game, I know I didn’t score, but I also knew I missed some shots. But going into the weekend, I wanted to focus on doing my best to try and shut her down and I felt like I did my part.”
Since arriving on campus, Stobbart has worked hard to earn her head coach’s praise.
“Sage has become an elite defender who is able to change the game with her versatility,” explains Gross. “She is one of the best rim protectors we’ve had in our program, and she is also capable of shutting down smaller players on the perimeter. This versatility makes her extremely unique.”
LOVING HER ENVIRONMENT
Ask Brittany Parker if there is one thing that’s helped Sage Stobbart navigate the rigours of first surviving and then thriving in Div. 1 basketball, and she references a trait that is best-described as an old-school super power.
“Working with a lot of high school players, it’s one thing to say you want to achieve something,” begins Parker, nee Fraser, the former Simon Fraser guard who was part of the Seycove coaching staff during Stobbart’s senior varsity career, “but Sage, she always walked the talk. If she wanted to get better in the paint, she would actually dedicate the time and find the resources like getting extra coaching, then dive right in.
“She just has a way of getting laser-focused on what she wants to do,” continues Parker, these days a senior varsity coach with the girls program at Parksville’s AA Ballenas Secondary.
As it is for so many high school-to-D1 student-athletes, the acclimation process can be dizzying.
Yet Stobbart credits her freshman redshirt season in 2017-18 as being key to her own development.
“When I first got here, I definitely thought I knew more about defence than I actually did,” she admits. “It was like ‘OK, I have a lot of learning to do’ and the physicality was something I had to get used to.”
How has it all progressed some four seasons later?
Says Gross: “Her ability to seamlessly shift from an inside presence to a perimetre threat allows us to play her all over the court.”
Of course Stobbart isn’t prepared to celebrate a thing this late in the campaign, one which still holds the promise of so much more.
Resiliency, she says, became even more ingrained in the Aggies’ DNA after county restrictions added up to 13 straight cancelled games after a season-opening 82-75 non-conference win over San Francisco in which Stobbart scored 15 points to go along with nine rebounds and five blocks.
“It was tough for all of us because it was a waiting game,” begins Stobbart, whose team did not play for almost two months, from Nov. 26 until Jan. 21. “We had to be ready each time. And we couldn’t even practice at one stage for two weeks.”
Now, the Aggies will wind up the regular season in Hawaii, capping a streak in which it will have played seven of its past nine games on the road. And all of that is ahead of the Big West tournament at Las Vegas which UC Davis will head to directly following its games in Honolulu.
“Going into Hawaii, we’re super-pumped to be taking our first flight,” says Stobbart. “We’ve been taking buses everywhere, and all year, we’ve called ourselves road warriors.
“I think a lot of people doubted us because we’ve had 13 games cancelled,” she adds. “It’s been a season of ups and downs. But the one thing that has gotten us through it all… it’s been our connection to team.”
Kind of like the perfect storm, perhaps?
Sage Stobbart would undoubtedly nod in agreement with that notion because for one who majors in the study of environments, she knows what it feels like to find a basketball home away from home.
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