Features Sports

Athlete Spotlight: Hannah Yoshihara’s shooting, mental toughness makes big difference

Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal
Photo by Erik Markus, La Habra Journal

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

In sports, an athlete’s mental toughness gets tested by a handful of different aspects, whether it be injury, your opponent, mind games or an uncharacteristically bad performance.

In the case of an outside shooter like Hannah Yoshihara of the Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team, the worst case scenario can stem from a simple case of shots not falling.

But after enduring a 0-for-14 night in an overtime loss to Valley Christian, Jan. 24, the senior guard did more than just turn it around, she was a huge factor in the Lady Heralds’ league wins last Tuesday and Friday.

“After that game, I was disappointed with myself because I knew I could do better,” Hannah said. “I talked with my parents and that Sunday I came to work out and shake off that game. On Tuesday, I knew it was a new game and I ended up calling it my Redemption game.”

That Tuesday game was another overtime thriller, but Hannah scored 20 points and hit five 3-pointers. The last long distance shot she made tied the game with five seconds remaining in the first overtime.

She added three free throws in the second overtime to seal a crucial road victory.

“I was extremely excited, because before they had called on me to make the tying shot and I missed it, so when I made it the second time, I felt a lot better,” Hannah said. “It means a lot because I can see that they have confidence in me.”

For Head Coach Grace Ricafranca, the solution to Hannah’s off-night against Valley Christian was simple.

“We just told her that sometimes you have a bad night, there isn’t much she can do about it, sometimes it’s just not there,” Ricafranca said.” We just told her to keep her head up and reminded her that it’s not her fault and not to hang it over herself, but just come out strong for the next game and keep shooting because eventually it will be there. I think she took that advice well because she played with a chip on her shoulder.”

For two seasons, Hannah has been a crucial part of the offense, as her outside shooting relieves pressure off of Sydney Lopez inside.

When she’s hitting shots like she did last week, it forces teams to remain honest on the perimeter, which opens up the inside and allows Lopez to go to work.

Hannah’s shooting has become so dangerous because of the extra work that she has been putting in outside of team practices.

“Every Sunday, I work out with the boys’ coach and we’ve been working on shooting a lot,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean that Hannah is treating team practices any differently.

“Yosh always works hard, she never takes a possession off,” Ricafranca said. “She’s really tough, she’s a sweet girl off the court, but on the court she’s not afraid to get into contact, she’s not afraid to body up on defense and she’s not afraid to score. Her aggression in practice really translates into game situations and she’s doing a really good job.”

In contrast to Hannah’s ability to shake off a bad performance, when she has a good night, she does anything necessary to keep up that momentum going forward.

After her production on Tuesday night, she followed by scoring 13 points in the first half, which equated to half of the team’s total by halftime in a win over Heritage Christian.

“I just felt a lot of confidence from Tuesday and I tried to transfer it to Friday,” Hannah said. “It was really nice, but I know that there are more games coming and I have to keep focused for those.”

Hannah has been playing basketball since she was in first grade, but didn’t start playing competitively until she reached junior high school.

Before games, she focuses by visualizing game situations and how to adjust her shooting form if she finds it to be a necessity.

Part of her successful turnaround can be attributed to the support of her parents, whom Hannah said are her biggest role models.

“Especially my dad,” she said, “He went through a lot of these sports, so being able to play these sports like he did, it means a lot.”

When she’s not working on her shooting form in practice, Hannah enjoys studying Anatomy, saying that she loves learning about how the human body works.

She has taken such an interest in the subject that she wants to continue studying it after high school. Hannah will have a chance to do that at one of three colleges that have already accepted her, Concordia University, Grand Canyon University and San Diego Christian College.

And while Hannah’s shooting has been a major asset to the team this year, it’s not the only reason her teammates love her so much.

“I love baking and my team knows that because I make them stuff all the time,” she said. “It’s always a fun thing to do for me.”

While Hannah specializes in sugar cookies for her teammates off the court, on the court, her clear specialty is her shooting and it’s something she plans to keep doing during her final three regular season games and possibly in the playoffs.

“I want to try to score in double digits for the rest of the season and finish strong because this is it for me,” she said. “I want to leave it all out on the court.”

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.