As the prospect of making a six-hour drive to Connecticut became a reality for Saylor Poffenbarger, her 13-year-old brother, Brittin, brought up an interesting scenario.
“Hey Saylor, you get the opportunity to win five national championships,” he said.
The thought never entered the mind of Poffenbarger, who on Wednesday graduated from Middletown High School and will now quickly pivot to the life of a collegiate student-athlete at the University of Connecticut.
The desire to win five national championships with perennial power UConn wouldn’t be surprising for some of Poffenbarger’s ilk. She has competed at the highest level in her age group, helping the United States win a gold medal at a 16-and-under world championship event two years ago.
But the human side of someone who has achieved so much often gets lost in all of the accolades. Poffenbarger’s mother and Middletown girls basketball coach, Amy Poffenbarger pegs her daughter as someone who craves structure. That has been difficult to attain during a pandemic in Frederick County, with the status of the winter sports season — and that of the fall and spring seasons, for that matter — in a state of flux.
When Poffenbarger drives up to Storrs, Connecticut, along with Amy and her father, Bill, on Saturday, she’ll soon enter a world that will have that structure. She’ll take 12 credits of college courses, with all of her education being administered online. And after she quarantines in Storrs for 10 days, she’ll be allowed to participate in practices and games with the Huskies.
All dates, times and locations for everything on Poffenbarger’s plate are set in stone.
“I’m excited to be around people and have a schedule — a set schedule — and be able to compete and kind of go back to some normalcy,” Poffenbarger said.
Poffenbarger put herself on pace to graduate a semester early with no intention of getting a head-start on college. During the fall, she fully anticipated playing during her senior season for Middletown and making a run at a state championship, especially considering her junior season ended in the state semifinals when the pandemic halted high school sports. Friends from around the country told her stories of attending football games and living a life that bordered on normal. So she figured she’d get the opportunity she wanted.
And once again, there’s the human aspect of the Middletown girl who has a strong bond to her community.
“A lot of the girls on the team are my best friends since kindergarten,” said Poffenbarger, a two-time News-Post Player of the Year who averaged 21.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists during her junior year.
The NCAA opened the door to Poffenbarger starting college early in mid-October, when it granted all winter Division I athletes competing during the 2020-21 season an extra year of eligibility. But Poffenbarger didn’t give that option much thought until late December, when UCLA announced that high school senior Dominique Darius had just enrolled at the school and immediately joined the Bruins’ active roster.
By that point, the chances of playing her senior season had all but dwindled due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Frederick County. So Poffenbarger opted to follow in Darius’ footsteps, knowing she wouldn’t exhaust any college eligibility if she participated with the 11-time national champion Huskies. And on top of that, Amy Poffenbarger said, she gets to start school early.
“It’s a no-lose situation,” she said.