Seniors bid farewell to girls’ basketball team

Three Rio Americano standouts play their last game as Raiders


Seniors Abby O’Brien, Sierra Witte, and Hailee Hackett are honored Feb. 5 at Senior Night.

Ashley Lundberg, Staff Writer

As the final buzzer rang out Feb. 12 at Rio Americano’s basketball game against El Camino, the sound signaled much more than the end of the game. 

For seniors Hailee Hackett, Abby O’Brien, and Sierra Witte, the Raiders’ 57-28 victory meant that their high school basketball careers were officially over. 

The three of them were honored Feb. 5 at Senior Night before their home game against El Camino, where they won 56-37. The seniors were celebrated with fanfare of cheerleaders and flowers, and teammates talked about the departing players and their great memories with them.

“It was so fun to have everyone there and I feel like our team played great with each other,” said Witte. She described Senior Night as “a high of my basketball career.” 

Overall, the team, led by coach Shawn Steck, finished 12-16 and went an impressive 8-4 at home. Despite the successes, at times the team faced a variety of challenges.

The Covid pandemic caused all sports to be played at one time last spring, forcing Witte to have to choose between lacrosse and basketball in 2021, her junior season.

“It was a tough decision and I ended up having to give up my basketball season for a year,” she said. She returned her senior season to play on the basketball team, and is also starting as a lacrosse player this year. 

A player shortage also made things difficult for the team this season. The lack of players this year “made it difficult to practice and scrimmage against each other,” said O’Brien. 

Hackett, however, had to face an even bigger problem, her health, after she was sidelined by a major injury. 

“My biggest challenge for not only my Rio basketball career but for my high school career in general was tearing my ACL my freshman year,” she said. “For a full recovery after surgery it was a year until I could play, missing my second year on varsity.”

Hackett got better, and became an integral part of the team. This season she averaged 2.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game, second on the team in both stats. Despite scoring an average of 4.8 points per game, she stresses that there’s more to the game than just shooting. 

“You do not have to score 20-30 points a game to be a great player,” Hackett said. “Defense is just as important as offense and moving around the ball to where your shooters are.”

O’Brien also made a name for herself this season, averaging a team-high 13.8 points a game and being voted through a Sacramento Bee poll last week as the area’s top senior girls’ basketball player, gaining over 29,000 votes. 

“[She is the] best shooter ever, and makes effortless three-pointers!” said sophomore JV player Cherish Dawson, who describes herself as O’Brien’s “personal cheerleader.” 

“She’s a trooper, a very strong and dependent basketball player,” Dawson added.

For O’Brien though, one of the best parts of this season were her teammates. 

“I think this is the closest our team has ever been since I’ve been playing at Rio,” she said. Hackett also mentioned the huge role her teammates have played in her life. 

“I’ve made some of my best friends playing for Rio, and I am beyond grateful for them,” she said. 

Even with the chaos of picking a college, attending school, and playing basketball that comes with senior year, the girls made time to make the junior varsity team feel welcome. This year they helped to run a buddy program, pairing every young player with a varsity counterpart. Freshman player Isabella Lepera was O’Brien’s buddy this season.

“She’s always willing to help, super sweet, and funny,” said Lepera. “I’m glad I had her as my buddy, I wouldn’t rather have anyone else.”

Witte also was a big help to the buddy program, actually pairing up with two junior players this season. She cites her JV year as a major aid in helping her reach the varsity level.

“JV  basketball gave me the transition year I needed,” said Witte. “I had never played competitive sports so JV gave me the prep I needed for varsity the next year.”

Witte plans to play lacrosse next year at Whitworth or George Fox University. 

While losing these three seniors will be hard for the Raiders, the trio leaves the team in good hands. 

Junior Bizzie Lynch stood out this season, leading the team in rebounds, steals, and assists. 

“I think the future could be bright with the players I’ve seen and met,” said Hackett. “They work hard and truly care for the game, and it’s nice to see people trying to better themselves and get angry after a loss.”  

Hackett encouraged the team to “keep your head up and keep working hard.” 

“If you turn over the ball or miss a shot don’t dwell on it,” she said. “Get back in the game and shake it off.”

The team will look to the abundance of young players to make up for the loss of their senior team captains. Witte perfectly sums up the feeling on the team.

 “Hopefully we can continue to win next year!” she said.