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Two girls basketball standouts are excellent examples of elite athletes

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider
Valerie Higgins of Chaminade and Katie Lou Samuelson of Mater Dei are driven by a desire to succeed

In sports-crazed Southern California, it only takes one trip to the gym to spot greatness.

It happened for me on Nov. 26. Playing on one court was 6-foot junior Valerie Higgins of West Hills Chaminade. Soon, 6-3 senior Katie Lou Samuelson of Santa Ana Mater Dei made her appearance.

Dick Enberg would have been shouting, "Oh, my!"

It's no wonder Higgins has scholarship offers from UCLA and USC and Samuelson has signed with Connecticut. Their individual skills separate them from most players and provide a clear understanding of what an elite player is supposed to look like.

Their stories of how they became two of the best basketball players in California and in the nation provide insight for those who want to follow in their footsteps.

Higgins' skill is her unyielding desire to succeed. Four times last season, she had 10 or more steals in a game. Creating chaos, confusion and commotion is her specialty.

"My motto is, I think you should never do anything halfway," she said. "Everything you do you should give 100%. That's why on the court every time, I exert myself to the limit, because there's no point me being out there walking and not helping."

Opponents are sometimes left feeling helpless when Higgins is in attack mode.

"She's a kid who plays so relentless and never says a word," Coach Melissa Hearlihy of Studio City Harvard-Westlake said. "She's a coach's dream."

In helping lead Chaminade to a 16-2 record, Higgins is averaging 15.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 5.5 steals. She was a key figure on last season's state Division III championship team.

Higgins' father, Keith, was a standout at Cal State Northridge. Her mother, Sherry, also played. Both became high school coaches and trained her in the fundamentals of basketball.

"If you get the team rattled on defense, it makes the game a lot easier," she said. "Steals and layups, steals and layups. That's pretty much the motto. If you work hard on defense, then offense comes naturally."

In the case of Samuelson, there's probably no better shooter in America. She's averaging 30.6 points and nine rebounds a game for the 17-1 Monarchs. She has made 53 three-pointers and is shooting 57% from the field and 83% on free throws.

"I think she's the best player in the country," Coach Kevin Kiernan said.

It was two summers ago that she made a tournament-record 18 threes in five games to help the USA 16U team win the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico.

She has grown up shooting jump shot after jump shot following older sisters Bonnie and Karlie, both of whom play for Stanford. Her father, Jon, played at Cal State Fullerton, and her mother, Karen, played netball in England.

"When we were little, we'd just practice with my dad every single day, shoot at least 250 shots," Samuelson said. "It just became a routine. That's where our shooting came from.

"My sisters are better shooters than me. They're robotic. They make every single shot. Our one-on-one games are pretty tough. We get into it."

Mater Dei produced the national prep player of the year in Kaleen Mosqueda-Lewis in 2011, and Samuelson figures to be another candidate.

When Higgins faced Samuelson in the finals of the Palisades tournament on Nov. 29, Chaminade defeated Mater Dei, 60-59. Higgins had 20 points. Samuelson had 27 points.

It will be fun to see the inevitable rematch coming in March.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: LATSondheimer

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