FORT WALTON BEACH — It’s rare but not unheard of for a high school freshman to be any given county’s best player. Such recognition, however, comes with lofty expectations.
After sharing Daily News Large Schools Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors with Crestview alumnae Jill Harris in 2019, Fort Walton Beach sophomore Samantha Sherer met and exceeded those prospects this past season with the same ease she displayed nightly at The Fort, picking apart opponents with pinpoint passing, clutch shooting and tenacious defense, which again earned her Player of the Year honors.
"She was better than she was last year when she was Co-Player of the Year," Fort Walton Beach coach Holly McDaniel said. "She just does it all. She guards the best player, she can score and she’s a great passer."
A veritable coach’s dream, Sherer, a 5-foot-7 point guard, averaged 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds — 3.4 coming on the offensive glass — and 4.2 assists and 2.7 steals per night, while shooting 47% from the floor and 35% from beyond the arc.
More so than Sherer’s numbers however, McDaniel lauded her young star’s work ethic, which helped lead the Vikings to a 19-8 finish and a fifth straight postseason appearance.
"She is so driven and she is so focused and she’s very, very competitive," McDaniel said. "You don’t have to worry about her putting time in the gym, you don’t have to worry about her making sure she’s doing her part in getting better. She’s always working on her game.
"She’s always striving to be the best … It just keeps elevating her game."
The Daily News sat down with Sherer to discuss the season, chasing that elusive district championship and her goals for the future:
You guys put together another solid year, finishing 19-8 with a trip to the postseason; how would you evaluate the season?
We worked really hard this year, and we had to incorporate some new players into our system and to our team, but I think we did pretty well getting to know each other for our first year all together.
Being the point guard on the team, how challenging was it learning to incorporate some of those new players?
I don’t think it was that hard. I played with ’em before (on club teams), so I knew what they could do and what they were good at.
What kind of challenges did the new district alignments introduced this year present?
I thought it was a pretty tough district we played in. Most of the teams were pretty good, and they all made the playoffs.
You guys missed out on the district championship for the second year in a row; does that motivate you moving forward in your next two seasons?
Obviously it motivates me a lot because I really want to win that district championship, and also I want to go to state.
What do you and this team need to do over the next two years to make that dream a reality?
We need to play with a lot more confidence with each other and be more aggressive as a team. Some of us like me and (sophomore) Marissa (Brown) are gonna have to to take a lot more control of the team and lead and work harder with everybody.
In speaking with coach McDaniel, she said you looked more comfortable this year. Are you already starting to take some of those steps?
Yeah, I think I got a little bit more confident with everybody as a sophomore; I played my freshman and I got to learn more about everybody, and I grew, I got more confident.
You and Marissa formed a potent duo, averaging almost 30 points combined per night; how do your two skillsets mesh?
I’m a really good outside player, and she’s a really good inside player and we just combine together. When I see her open, I give her the ball; when she sees me open, she gives me the ball.
Coach McDaniel also said your playing shortstop for the softball team helps on the court; how do those two skillsets help each other?
I’m able to see the court better because of softball. I know where people are on the court and I have better vision, and I get that based on softball; you have to be quick in softball and you have to have good reaction time when the ball comes to you. So, I have like a good reaction time in basketball for reading steals and stuff like that.
We talked about a district title and going to state, but are there any other goals you’d like to achieve over the next two years?
Obviously to get better. I want to be able to get more aggressive. I don’t want to just rely on my outside game. I want to be able to drive in a lot more into the bigger post players and improve as an overall player.
What was your favorite part of this past season?
I just love hanging around my teammates. We’re like family. We all love each other. We got eat with each other, we go to the beach, stuff like that. I love being around them.