Sports

Samantha Pope hangs in there after knee injury

Falcon athlete Samantha Pope likes basketball the best, but said she performs better playing first base with the South Whidbey fastpitch softball team. Pope will study engineering at the University of Washington in the fall. - Jeff VanDerford
Falcon athlete Samantha Pope likes basketball the best, but said she performs better playing first base with the South Whidbey fastpitch softball team. Pope will study engineering at the University of Washington in the fall.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

It isn’t easy being the coach’s daughter.

“I think he’s tougher on me than the other girls,” said Samantha Pope, about Falcon basketball coach Henry Pope. “He knows what I’m capable of and how far to push me.

“Of course, he’s a terrific coach and loves what he’s doing.”

Pope, a senior, has been playing basketball and softball since she was in the second grade on South Whidbey. She’s now looking forward to the wider world when she begins classes at the University of Washington in the fall.

“My parents gave me balls when I was little so I had to learn how to use them the right way,” she recalled. She said she likes basketball because of the constant action, but is better at first base on the fastpitch field.

“Softball is a slower-paced, more thoughtful game,” she said. “Being on first, when there is action, I’m in the thick of it.”

And Pope was always in the thick of things until January 2008 when the world crashed down upon her head. Playing at the newly-built high school court in Granite Falls, she suffered a badly-torn knee.

“I went out to defend a couple girls under the basket, planted my feet and swiveled,” she said. “My body kept going, but my feet stuck on the new flooring and down I went.”

Since then, she’s worked long hours to overcome the pain in time for the winter basketball season, but only got to play in half the games.

Pope said the softball team is poised to have a great wind-up, however.

“There’s a lot of dedication to this team, more than I’ve seen before. If the weather clears and we can get a winning rhythm going, watch out,” she said.

Pope is in the Running Start program, which offers students a chance to get some college credits behind them. When she graduates in June — with a cumulative four-year 3.8 grade-point-average — she’ll have finished college-level classes in English, pre-calculus, chemical concepts and environmental science. She loves history, especially Mark Eager’s classes, but will focus her studies in engineering.

Math teacher Andy Davis said Pope is the kind of kid who makes his life easier.

“She’s hard-working, quiet and very talented in math,” Davis noted. “She’s fun to teach and approaches the subject in a business-like manner.”

Another fave is Spanish class with Jennifer Gochanour.

“I want to go and immerse myself in the Spanish culture some day, thanks to her,” Pope said.

Gochanour described Pope as a consistently-focused, conscientious student who is academically curious and sincere about getting the most out of her learning opportunities.

“Samantha is highly ethical and honest, easy to work with, diligent, always willing to work with anyone and was a pleasure to have in Spanish class,” Gochanour said. “I hope she continues her studies and creates the opportunity to study and travel abroad in the future.”

But the teacher who made the biggest impact was Bruce Callahan in the fifth grade.

“I’m really shy and he gently forced me to come out of my shell,” Pope said.

Callahan recalls seeing something in the quiet, young girl.

“She wasn’t brave, was unsure of herself and lacked confidence in her own abilities,” Callahan said. “I placed her in the back of the room and assigned her to answer the phone, and that helped. She’s a special kid.”

When she graduated, Callahan gave her a pen that said “Have courage.” It can be found on her refrigerator door to this day.

When not immersed in math, history or Spanish, Pope kicks back with Black Eyed Peas, Run DMC and her father’s vast Motown collection. Pasta — cooked any which way — is her preferred culinary choice, while “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” dominate her free time.

“Taylor (Pope’s sister and teammate) and (brother) Lewis call me the nerd of the family because I read so much,” she confessed.

Pope said the supportive nature of South Whidbey is the memory she’ll take with her when she heads to university.

“It’s a safe environment and everyone goes the extra mile to help us when there’s a problem,” she said.

At college, she plans to be involved in intramural sports, but said she will concentrate first on her studies.

“My mom and dad didn’t do well in school and I feel an obligation to succeed,” she said. “My parents have always been there for guidance, but have made it clear that life decisions are up to me. I love them very much.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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