The Harvard women's basketball squad used to consider itself lucky if it broke even--but this year the Crimson is fighting for first place and a crack at the Ivy League Championship.
And leading the way is 5-ft., 11-in. forward Sharon Hayes, a sophomore whose basketball career began when she was six years old.
"I may sound a little prejudiced, but she was the best basketball player I've ever seen," Lexington basketball Coach Sandy Curt said, "I wish I had her back."
Hayes recalls that she chose Harvard for its academics. "It came down to if I wanted to play sports or go to school," she said. "At Harvard, the main emphasis is placed on books, not athletics."
With the Minutemen, Hayes was elected to the Boston Globe All-Scholastic team her junior and senior years, played in the junior Olympics for three seasons, was nominated to the Middlesex League All-Star team for three years--and sparked Lexington to the Middlesex League Championship as the Most Valuable Player her senior year.
"Hayes was the basketball player on the team," Curt said. "She was a leader on the court and off."
Individually, she scored more than 1000 points in her three years on varsity--a Lexington record--and also set school marks for rebounds, steals, and blocked shots.
All of these accomplishments led Lexington High to retire her number. "I was shocked. I couldn't believe it--it was a neat feeling to have your number retired," Hayes recalled.
The Currier House native describes herself as "an aggresive player and better at offense than defense."
One weakness lies in her inconsistency at scoring: "Sometimes I would be high scorer in a game, but the next game I might score the lowest," Hayes said.
"Hayes knows when she should shoot and when she shouldn't--she knows the game well," Smith said. "Hayes is a pure shooter; she's most effective from the perimeter. She has room for improvement on defense, but by the end of last year we were using her against some of the top offensives."
"We've been playing man-to-man this year, and my defense has gotten better along with my rebounding," Hayes said.
The sophomore has set two goals: for her team to win the Ivy League Championship this year, and "to make my game overall better offensively and defensively."
Hayes gives credit to the team's hard work, drive, and conditioning program. "We aren't as tired as other teams at the end of the game," she said. "Last year we lost a lot of close games because at the end of the game we were tired."
And the adjustment from high school to college has gone smoothly. In Hayes's freshman year, the size of the basketball was changed and the games became quicker.
"It wasn't new to me, because in the Bay State Olympics we used the new basketballs," Hayes said. "It wasn't so severe, because I had already played with them."
Her 26 points against Brooklyn last year was the third-highest scoring total ever for a Harvard player, and at the end of the season Hayes was named All-Ivy Honorable Mention.
Never one to slack off, Hayes also plays on Harvard's softball team--which should challenge Princeton for the Ivy championship this season--in the spring.
Last year, she started every game at shortstop. "Hayes handled it like a vet--she was a leader on the field," softball Coach John Wentzell said."
With her athletic skills and her influence as a leader, Hayes has turned both the basketball and softball squads into bona fide contenders.