Thomas Jay Knox / Courtesy photo
Cliff Grassmick / BoCoPreps.com
Even before former Fairview High girls basketball star Sarah Kaufman ever stepped onto the court to play for Middlebury College back in 2014, there was a major shake up within the program.
Yet, by the time she finished her playing career this past winter, she was a major influence in how the Panthers reshaped themselves into a contender in their league in the NCAA Division III ranks.
Along the way for Kaufman, there were game-winning shots, a lot of minutes on the court and a tremendous amount of trust placed in her from a new coaching staff.
It culminated in a career milestone this season — that being surpassing 1,000 points — and being a part of a team that went from 7-17 before she arrived to having back-to-back 17-win seasons in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
“It’s everything you kind of want to have happen, leaving the program in a better spot than when you came in,” Kaufman said recently as she was back in Colorado for spring break. “When I came in as a freshman, we had a ton of change going on, we had no upper classmen other than the seniors that were going to be gone. Moving forward my sophomore season, we were the upper classmen.
“It was really great to see the program having improved into a very competitive program in a very competitive conference and to be a part of that.”
Kaufman admits she pledged to Middlebury because of its reputation as a fine liberal arts school, and that continuing to play basketball was just a ‘bonus’. The Panthers, after all, did not have the kind of success in the record book that she was used to playing for the Knights (FHS made the second round of the Class 5A tournament each year of her career).
The summer after she graduated, Middlebury went through a coaching staff overhaul and brought on KJ Krasco as head coach. For Kaufman, that eventually translated into being the team’s primary point guard as a freshman.
It was a unique opportunity, Kaufman said, and one that paved the way for the milestone she would hit this year. Her first three seasons saw her average in double figures in scoring, with a single season-best 14.7 clip as a sophomore.
As a senior, and with Middlebury expanding the roster and getting younger players involved so as to build its reputation, Kaufman saw fewer minutes out on the court this year but still played efficient basketball throughout the season.
That allowed her the chance get to 1,000 points — which only eight players had done previously in program history — and she finished her career sixth on the Panthers all-time scoring list with 1,059 points.
“I was incredibly fortunate to be in the situation I was in because I don’t think too many freshman have that opportunity to exhibit leadership that early on, but the coaches were really great in helping me fulfill that role over the next few seasons,” said Kaufman, whose 1,000th point came on January 9. “(Scoring 1,000 points) is a huge milestone and it was a rewarding experience … that night was special for me but really it was a moment for the entire team.
“It was a huge change for me to go from playing a ton as a freshman to not seeing as many minutes as a senior, but I know it’s because we had such a strong and growing group of girls that, really, my class had helped kind of grow.”
For all of her on-the-court accomplishments, Kaufman also has been awarded with several academic honors while at the school including being nominated as an academic all-American both her junior and senior years.