Hanford's Steele works hard as 3-year starter

By Craig Craker, Tri-City Herald February 17, 2012 

RICHLAND -- Savanna Steele doesn't just live and breathe basketball.

She sleeps it too.

The Hanford High junior loves the game so much that she shares her bed each night with a Wilson Evolution ball that she has had since fourth grade.

"It has one side of the bed, and I have the other," she said. "The ball just feels natural. I always have a basketball with me."

And that doesn't seem odd at all for the 5-foot-4 point guard, who spends her summers attending camps and tournaments rather than hitting the beach or going to Disney World.

Steele has started since she was a freshman for the Falcons and has her team ready to face visiting Sunnyside at 7 p.m. today in a Class 3A District 5/6 Tournament elimination game.

She has been around the sport since she was in third grade, when Hanford junior varsity coach Bret Akers invited her to be on an AAU team.

Akers said he was sick of losing, so he figured he should get some kids coming in.

Eight years later, nothing Steele does surprises Akers.

"She is extremely competitive and doesn't like things getting in her way of being successful," Akers said. "She has always taken charge. Always wanted the ball. Always the leader."

Some advice Akers gave Steele in seventh grade helped her reach the varsity level at such a young age.

After spending two summers attending a basketball camp at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Steele called up Akers and asked what she needed to do to make varsity as a freshman.

According to her mom, Jackie Steele, Akers told the young athlete she should probably be shooting for making junior varsity as a ninth-grader. Savanna Steele was adamant, though, that she wanted to play varsity.

When Akers asked why, Jackie said her daughter had a quick response.

Jackie said her daughter told her that to play at a good school in college she needed to play four years of varsity.

So, Akers told her she had to work twice as hard if she wanted to be good enough to play varsity right away.

"She never looked back," Jackie Steele said. "I hear all kinds of parents complain about their kids not wanting to go to practice. I've never had to do that with Savanna. She is the first one there and the last to leave and as much as she can play, she wants to play."

Savanna's love of the game can actually cause tension within the family at times.

"Sometimes when I'm frustrated, my mom says, 'If you don't love it anymore, then stop playing,' " Steele said with a smile. "That irritates me when she says that. It's not even a question. I'm just venting. I love being on the court."

That love has translated into a player with good floor knowledge, a steady jump shot and a much-needed floor general.

She also doesn't mind taking the last second shot and having the whole team depend on her, something some athletes shy away from.

"She is the kid who is willing to take the shot," Hanford varsity coach Evan Woodward said. "She understands the pressure involved in the situation. She understands there are ups and downs. You have to have a kid who is willing to have the consequence of it not being glory all the time."

To that end, Steele isn't only focused on basketball. She is also a three-year starter on the Hanford soccer team.

Outside of the athletic venue, she also maintains a 3.96 grade-point average, has taken zero hour classes each year, is the junior class president andmember of the National Honor Society, Key Club and Young Life.

But she admits it's the love of basketball that dominates her life -- day and night.

"It's the best part of my day."

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