By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
Lady Highlander senior Emma Zener had a day to remember. Just a few hours after she was named La Habra’s class of 2017 co-valedictorian, Zener surpassed a milestone never before reached in school history on Tuesday night.
With her 10 points against Sunny Hills on Tuesday, Zener eclipsed 1,000 for her career and helped lift the Lady Highlanders over the Lancers.
Zener came into the game seven points shy of 1000 for her career. So her average of 11 points per game seemed to make eclipsing the milestone mostly a formality.
However, the standout sharpshooter opened the first quarter ice cold.
With friends and family filling up the La Habra gym, and the PA announcer reminding everyone in attendance of the looming milestone several times, Zener began the night uncharacteristically off from behind the arc, missing her first six shots.
“Going into the game I was a little more nervous than usual because I knew that I had family coming out and people were expecting me to hit seven more points,” Zener said. “Normally I wouldn’t see seven as that many points, but suddenly reaching that milestone was like trying to get over the hump.”
As the game progressed, she turned to her defense to create some easy offense and get to the basket, which is something she and her head coach Dana Khandelwal have been working on all year.
“By this point with four years on varsity teams know she’s going to shoot, so this year we have encouraged her and really worked with her on attacking the basket,” Khandelwal said.
Midway through the second quarter Zener grabbed a rebound and took it the length of the court for a layup. And one minute later she came up with a steal and another transition bucket at the rim.
Khandelwal said Zener was already a prolific three-point shooter the past three seasons, but what has set her apart this season, has been her ability to zadrive to the basket.
That setup center Hannah McArthur to find Zener open behind the arc, and she fittingly knocked down a three to reach the rare milestone with 1:47 remaining in the first half.
“At first when my shots weren’t falling I started to get a little nervous, but then once I hit those layups, I was really happy to hit my 1000th point on a three.” Zener said.
After trailing the Lancers by a basket through the first quarter, Zener’s seven points in the second helped give the Lady Highlanders a 27-17 lead at the half, and they they never looked back.
La Habra would go on to beat Sunny Hills 52-36, with Zener adding another three in the third quarter to cement this game and her forever in the record books.
“We talked about this game last night and how we wanted to get to the third spot for the playoffs,” Khandelwal said. “We actually didn’t put too much pressure on the seven points because she’s averaging 11 [per game] now anyway, so we knew she was going to get it.”
Zener plans to continue playing basketball at the next level. The newly honored valedictorian will attend Smith College in Massachusetts, where she will play basketball and pursue a liberal arts degree.
“I wanted to go to a college where I can be a student first because I’ve always loved learning more than basketball,” she said. “I realized at a D3 I can do that, basketball is just a part of who you are, it’s not your whole identity and I love the idea of an all women’s college.”
Zener said that she realized at the beginning of her freshman year if she wanted to maintain success in both the classroom and on the court, that she would have to create a regiment for herself.
“I would say it was a lot of self discipline, with telling myself I want to be the best in school and in basketball,” Zener said. “I don’t want to be just a student or just a basketball player, but a student-athlete who excels in both.”
At 1003 and counting, Zener and the Lady Highlanders (14-6, 3-2) will have their hands full when they host Troy (13-6, 5-0) on Friday night. The Warriors hold an impressive record of their own, having won an astonishing 205 consecutive Freeway League games.