Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week: Hannah Sanders

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Athlete of the Week: Sanders stayed strong for Sailors

By Matt Szabo | Contact Reporter

April 27, 2013. A partially torn left anterior cruciate ligament while playing soccer for an AYSO team.

March 3, 2014. A fully torn left ACL and partially torn meniscus during the first game of the Newport Harbor lacrosse season.

Newport Harbor High senior Hannah Sanders remembers the dates well. As a freshman, the first injury was hard enough to overcome. Then, about 10 months later, the second injury came.

“My cleats planted into the ground, and my knee turned without my body,” she said. “I heard it pop, so I kind of knew in the back of my head that it was torn.”

Sanders is a tough kid. She could handle the pain. Harder to stomach was knowing that her high school career could be in jeopardy.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the actual injury itself, I was just thinking about the upcoming seasons that I had,” she said. “I definitely knew I was going to be out the rest of the season, but I was also concerned about the rest of high school.”

She stayed involved with the lacrosse team, taking stats that season while having surgery a month later on another date that she isn’t soon to forget, April 7.

Sanders went to ProSport Physical Therapy in Costa Mesa for about 10 months, two to three times a week. The following winter, she wasn’t cleared for practice yet but she could run. So she did, running laps around the field at Back Bay High while her teammates practiced.

Six times around was a mile. Whenever Sanders would get close to her teammates, they would cheer her on.

“Hannah has been one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known,” said Newport Harbor senior defender and co-captain Jordan Rausch, who has also played field hockey and soccer with Sanders. “She’s definitely one of the hardest working people I know. I’m honestly really proud of her, that she came back from such a big injury. Most people definitely would have given up.”

Sanders never did, returning as the Sailors’ junior varsity goalie as a junior and the varsity goalie this season. Last summer, she put in work playing club with OC United and Coach Dan Kirkpatrick, and that paid dividends.

Oh what a season did Sanders, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, helped Harbor produce.

The Sailors went undefeated in league to capture their first outright Century-Empire-Sunset League title. They then pulled off two upsets in the playoffs to advance to the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division semifinals, another program first.

Sanders was in the midst of it all. Newport Harbor Coach Matt Armstrong saw her potential as a junior, when she came up big in a shootout to lift the Sailors’ JV team to a semifinal win over Tesoro in the “Laxapalooza” tournament at Laguna Hills High.

“When it counts the most, she’s the strongest, and that’s what you want out of a goalie,” Armstrong said. “She lives like she plays, with a lot of heart. The girls want to fight for her. They know that she’ll fight for them. She never backs down. Even when she takes a shot that’s painful, she’ll never back down from it.”

The Sailors were seeded No. 10 in the South Division playoffs. A team goal for the season was to record the program’s first playoff victory in six years, but they exceeded that goal. Sanders tied a season-high with 10 saves as they won at No. 7 San Juan Hills, 9-7, in the first round. Then she had seven saves as they stunned No. 2 St. Margaret’s, 13-12 in overtime, in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Adena Rothbard had the game-winning sudden death goal, part of her career-high six scores on the night.

When it went into overtime, pressure mounted on the goalies for each team. But Sanders responded.

May 5, 2016. The day that the Newport Harbor girls’ lacrosse program told the Orange County lacrosse community, ‘Hey, we’re here.”

“The first three minutes [of overtime], they had a couple of good shots,” Sanders said. “We just wanted to win so badly. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but my adrenaline was going. The bruises were worth it in that game.”

The surprise run ended two days later, when the Sailors lost to defending South Division champion Foothill, 5-1, in the semifinals at Irvine High. But Sanders held tough with nine saves. Even in that game, the Sailors showcased a tough defense that also included Rausch, senior Maxine Aiello and juniors Jillian Rosten and Hayden Allen. Sanders and Aiello, who live five houses apart, have known each other since they were little.

The Newport defense had to adjust when senior Sophia Riggan hyperextended her knee in practice in April, but the Sailors held strong.

“She’s definitely still a part of our defense group,” Sanders said. “We’d still talk right before the game started in our huddle, so she was just as big of a part on defense when she wasn’t playing.”

Sanders knows how hard that can be, watching from the sidelines. In terms of her individual development, Armstrong, who himself played goalie at the University of Michigan from 1994-97, pointed to her save percentage being much higher in the later part of the season. She earned Most Valuable Goalie honors in the Century-Empire-Sunset League and made 113 saves for the season.

In six of the Sailors’ last seven games, she had more saves than goals allowed.

“Even when her save percentage wasn’t where we wanted it, she would make the big saves,” he said.

Aug. 29, 2016. The first day of classes at Northern Arizona University, where Sanders is going to college.

She might play club lacrosse there. But guess what she wants to study? Exercise science.

“There’s a positive out of my knee, actually,” Sanders said. “I realized I want to be a PT.”

Sanders does try to stay positive. It’s not hard for her to find good things to say about her senior season in the Newport Harbor girls’ lacrosse program. In the future, maybe people will look back at it as the one when the Sailors established themselves as one of the top programs in Orange County.

“It’s definitely been a lot of ups and downs, but I have amazing friends that are just always encouraging of me,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be amazing to look back at it. It was really cool because our seniors this year were a part of the program when it was almost nothing. To be a part of it this year, when it’s the best that it’s ever been, that was really fun.”

Hannah Sanders

Born: July 1, 1998

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-3

Sport: Lacrosse

Year: Senior

Coach: Matt Armstrong

Favorite food: Flank steak

Favorite movie: “Bridesmaids”

Favorite athletic moment: Upsetting No. 2-seeded St. Margaret’s in a U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division quarterfinal match this season.

Week in review: Sanders, a goalie, made 25 total saves in three games and helped Newport Harbor reach the South Division semifinals for the first time in program history.

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