CALDWELL, N.J. — When college athletes begin their senior seasons, the goal is to be remembered in a positive light. On the Division II Caldwell University women’s basketball team, St. Mary’s alum Sharell Sanders is working towards that goal and doing an exceptional job.
Sanders, a starting guard for the Cougars, is making the most of her senior season. In 16 games, all starts, Sanders has posted averages of 11.8 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per contest while shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three-point range.
Not only has Sanders seen individual success this year, but the Cougars are off to an ideal start as well this winter. Caldwell stands at 13-3 on the season, 6-1 against Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference opponents.
Sanders cemented her Caldwell legacy Wednesday night when the Cougars hosted Wilmington. Needing just three points to reach the 1,000-point milestone, Sanders finished with 14 points and 10 assists in a 91-66 victory that gave the Cougars sole possession of first place in the CACC. Winthrop native Kristen Siscamanis, a junior guard/forward, added 16 points in the win.
Sanders currently has 1,011 career points, which ranks her at 19th in school history.
“It’s been a pretty amazing season so far,” Sanders, a Dorchester native, said. “We’re doing well in the conference, I scored my 1,000th point and got that out of the way early. Now I can focus on conference play and helping us win the conference.”
Sanders reached the milestone on a lay-up in the final minute of the first quarter.
“It was definitely something that I hoped wouldn’t keep lingering,” Sanders said. “Every game it gets closer and closer and I didn’t want to keep thinking about it. I was glad that I was able to score it and get it out of the way so I can look forward to the rest of the season.”
Making the moment more memorable is that her mother, Nakia Hopkins, made the trip from Dorchester to watch Sanders reach the feat. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hopkins hadn’t seen her daughter play since Sanders’ senior year at St. Mary’s.
“My mom really wanted to be a part of it,” Sanders said. “It was very emotional for me. She hasn’t seen me play since I was a senior in high school. For her to make that trip, it meant a lot for her too.”
Now that Sanders has secured her spot in Caldwell’s history books, the senior aims to shift her focus to leading the Cougars through a deep run in the CACC Tournament. The Cougars currently hold a one-game lead over Bloomfield in the CACC standings.
“We’re definitely looking to win the conference,” Sanders said. “We’ve made it pretty deep in the conference tournament in the years I’ve been here. We’re not content with just getting there, we want to win it. We’re looking forward to sharing all the excitement that comes with that.
“I think we’re sharing the ball well,” Sanders added. “We lead the conference in assists so that shows that we can all share the ball and score. We’re playing great defensively. We feel that if we hold teams in the 60’s, we can’t be beat and we’ll see good outcomes.”
Sanders believes the success she’s seeing at Caldwell couldn’t have been possible without the coaching and guidance she received at St. Mary’s. She credited Spartans coach Jeff Newhall for pushing her to reach her fullest potential.
“I think my time at St. Mary’s with Coach Newhall included a lot of pushing me to be better and play my best,” Sanders said. “It started in high school for me. Coach Newhall saw a lot of potential in me as an offensive threat. He definitely showed me a lot on the offensive end.”
“Sharell was a major piece of two state championships as a freshman in 2011 and a senior in 2014,” Newhall said. “She was probably the best on the ball defender I’ve seen in my time coaching basketball. She hasn’t had the smoothest road and she deserves a lot of credit.”
And in the rarest of occurrences, Sanders wasn’t the only member of the Spartans family that reached the 1,000-point mark Wednesday. In Lynn, Spartans senior forward Olivia Nazaire needed 20 points and scored 21 in a win over Cardinal Spellman to become the fifth player in program history to reach 1,000.
“I think it’s pretty crazy that we both did it on the same night,” Sanders said. “It’s something amazing and it’s a memorable moment for the Spartans family. I think it says a lot about me and Olivia moving forward.”
Newhall added that Sanders is a great role model for aspiring college athletes.
“She’s the poster child for ‘don’t believe you can’t do something,'” Newhall said. “She deserves a lot of credit for this. She earned a college scholarship and she has a great GPA. It’s a culmination of hard work.”