I covered my first University of Tampa women’s basketball game on Saturday afternoon as the Spartans beat the No. 18 Rollins Tars 71-48. I saw a very good team with diverse skill sets all around, but one player’s court dominance stood out above all others: that of a 5’7′ senior guard named Hailee Sullivan. That game turned out to be a career best with 26 points (9-13; 7-10 3-point) alongside five assists.
Myself and the others in attendance, including opposing fans, watched in amazement as she drained one long-range shot after another. Across the press table, even the Rollins commentator raved about Sullivan’s talents. In a game in which nobody else on either team scored more than 11 points, she suddenly dropped 26 on a ranked conference rival.
Saturday’s game was actually the second consecutive game in which Sullivan topped her career best. She recorded 18 points, each one important, in an overtime victory over Nova Southeastern on Feb. 4. She also hit four three-pointers while leading the team with 15 points in a two-point win over Flagler on January 31. Some casual followers may be asking, ‘Who is Hailee Sullivan and where could she have come from?’ A closer look reveals some answers.
Sullivan, an Illinois native, has played for the Spartans for four years. The stat sheets indicate that she was not always at the top of the game plan. She paid her dues on the bench as a freshman, scoring 3.5 points per game and averaging 9.9 minutes. She made one start as a sophomore, jumping to 11.6 minutes per game, but remaining stagnant at 3.4 points. Sullivan finally got her big break as a junior, starting 11 of 31 games. In 19.2 minutes per game, however, she only tallied 4.2 points as her shooting percentage dropped from around .400 to just .317.
Refusing to go out on those terms, Sullivan took on a leadership role as a senior and shined brightly. Through 21 team games, Sullivan has only been in the starting lineup three times. But that certainly does not mean she is of no value to the Spartans. She has averaged 24.3 minutes and spiked up to 7.4 points per game this season on a much-improved .442 shooting percentage, .452 from three point range.
She sits just behind Angela Guiu for fourth on the team at 53 assists, already a career best. Topping it off, Sullivan was named the conference’s Player of the Week for the week ending Feb. 8. It is easy to see that she has shown solid improvement across the board in her final opportunity to leave her legacy in UT history.
What is her worth to the team? Sullivan herself may not be the one to ask. She told me following Saturday’s game that it’s a team game; the team is playing better together; the victory was a boost of confidence for the team. It was all about the team. But this only makes her a better player in my book. Teamwork and its correlation to winning and team morale are lost on a lot of higher-profile athletes.
To Sullivan, though, it is the essence of the game, and that is worth more than the stat sheets.
Brenton Burkett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.