They pushed the middle school player around, wrestling rebounds away, setting screens that sent her flying or simply muscling the basketball out of her hands.
“They’d knock her around, but she still kept coming back for more,” Amy Poffenbarger said of her daughter, Saylor, who for years had pleaded for opportunities to practice with the Middletown High School players her mother coached.
Amy Poffenbarger and her husband, Bill, had strongly encouraged all of their children to play multiple sports, and Saylor tried her hand at lacrosse, soccer, softball and golf. But Saylor, now a rising junior at Middletown, kept gravitating toward the hardwood, where she developed all-around skills and started showing a certain fearlessness under pressure.
Combine a burning desire to play basketball and oozing confidence, and Amy starting seeing someone capable of being not just an excellent basketball player but an elite athlete who on Thursday announced that she has verbally committed to play with the most successful women’s college basketball program in the past quarter-century.
At 12:42 p.m. Saylor Poffenbarger posted on her Twitter account a to-the-point message: “Go Huskies ... Committed.”
She was referring to the University of Connecticut Huskies, who have won 11 national championships since 1995 under coach Geno Auriemma, making Saylor’s choice one of the most significant college commitments in Frederick County history.
“I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet because it’s been a dream since I was 4 years old,” said Saylor, who developed an affinity for former UConn player Maya Moore as a 7-year-old. “I’ve always said I’ve wanted to go to UConn. It was kind of surreal coming as reality. ... It will take a couple days to fully hit me.”
Saylor, who gave her verbal commitment to Auriemma at approximately 6 p.m. on Wednesday, received more than 30 Division I scholarship offers. By last winter, she had narrowed her list of schools to six: UConn, Oregon, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
In February, Saylor made her second visit to UConn. A number of factors combined to make the high-profile Huskies a school she couldn’t refuse.
She appreciated the honesty of Auriemma, who employs a tough-love approach to coaching and owns the third most wins in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
“I feel like Geno and their staff would pull the most potential out of me,” said Saylor, who recently played for the United States’ 16-and-under national team in Chile.
She had also established a strong rapport with the Huskies assistant coaches, including Shea Ralph — the first person associated with UConn that Saylor met. In the summer leading up to her freshman season, Saylor was playing in an AAU tournament in Chicago when she bumped into Ralph in a Starbucks. Saylor proceeded to mug for pictures with Ralph, who actually had tabbed Saylor as one of the players she wanted to scout at the tournament. Soon after the tournament, Ralph touched base with Saylor, marking the beginning of UConn’s recruitment of the 6-foot-2 guard.
Also, UConn offers both of the majors she is considering: mortuary sciences and business.
At Middletown High, Saylor has shown she can do most everything on the court, from crashing the boards and setting screens to shooting jumpers well beyond the 3-point arc and dishing off nice passes to teammates. It’s that kind of versatility, she said, that helped draw interest from UConn.
“Geno plays ‘positionless’ basketball, and I feel like that’s what caught his eye,” said Saylor, who earned News-Post Co-Player of the Year honors last season for the Knights, averaging 21.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. “I play every single position no matter what.
“He looks for leaders, and he looks for girls that are going to do the little things and not be so worried about scoring. That’s kind of like my game. I feel like I’m not a selfish player, and I feel that kind of attracts him because I do the little things.”