By Michael Tolvo
The general consensus among the FGCU Women’s Basketball home game attendees is that Sarah Hansen is their favorite player. One thing is for certain, it is not for how often she smiles during her games.
In fact, in a contest for who smiles less between Hansen and Men’s Basketball coach Joe Dooley, many might give the nod to the patented Hansen snarl.
Hansen has endeared herself to the hoard of local fans that regularly flock to Alico Arena for her unparalleled intensity. From warm-ups to the final buzzer, the Eagles leader on and off the court is locked in. Whether it be her signature pregame opening yell or her emphatically pumping up her teammates during one of her brief times off the court, the fifth-year senior is always completely invested in the game at hand.
It is that kind of locked in laser focus and passion that has endeared her to everyone and anyone who has watched her play over the past five years; with the obvious exception of those with the misfortune of having to battle her daunting Green and Blue squad.
During Hansen’s storied career at FGCU, the Women’s Basketball team has been nothing short of dominant. Since she first took the court as a red-shirt freshman, the Eagles have claimed an unprecedented 70 victories in 74 regular season conference contests. That marvelous stretch included a conference win streak of 44 games that spanned 1,067 days. Such a period of dominance had never before been witnessed in Atlantic Sun history. At the center of it all was Sarah Hansen.
Recently named A-Sun player of the year for the second consecutive year, Hansen shot over 50 percent in a college career that has also seen her start 131 out of a possible 132 games over the past four seasons. She made a habit of stuffing the stat sheet and leading her team on a nightly basis. This season she led the team in field-goal percentage, points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, free throw makes per game, loudness per game and enthusiasm per game.
Her unmatched consistency and brilliance on the court has enabled Hansen to shatter countless records for the FGCU Women’s Basketball program. The 5’10 guard has laid waste to a mind-boggling 11 records, including the marks for points, rebounds, steals and games started.
Despite her excellence in nearly every statistical category, Hansen never lost sight of what is most important. For the player with seemingly more accolades than FGCU has students, the Green and Blue’s lone senior always put the team first.
When asked prior to her senior night game against Northern Kentucky if she was going to leave herself any room for sentimentality during the traditionally emotional ceremony, Hansen was quick to respond.
“I’m going to say no. I don’t think we really have time for it at this point”. She said in typical Hansen manner. “We know that we are not done playing here. We can’t let things slip up. Any little thing and Northern Kentucky will take advantage of it
After Hansen was treated to a resounding standing ovation before the game, she led a strong second half effort for the Eagles en route to 67-53 triumph. In fitting fashion, the high-achieving senior snatched 10 rebounds and dropped 12 points to record her 6th double-double of the season and 20th of her career.
Led by Hansen, the Eagles marched to the Atlantic Sun championship games and came face to face with arch-rival Stetson. After barely escaping Stetson’s home of Deland in a nail-biting overtime victory earlier in the season, the Green and Blue entered another grueling battle with the Hatters. Neither team held a decided advantage as the two Atlantic Sun powerhouse’s dueled for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Ultimately, Hansen and her resilient squad would overcome an early nine point deficit to earn the win, again in overtime, claiming the second Atlantic Sun title for the Eagles in the past three years. Hansen notched 13 points and played a team high 43 minutes in her final Atlantic Sun contest.
While her excellence is most visible on the court, Hansen’s impressive diligence and commitment extends to her life beyond basketball. The perennial A-Sun Academic Honor recipient (this season will mark her fifth consecutive year) and the 3-time A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year has exemplified academic accomplishment since the day she stepped on campus.
This year, Hansen has challenged herself academically like never before. Working alongside Dr. Sean Kelly and the Honors program, the chemistry major became one of the first FGCU students to apply for the esteemed Rhodes scholarship. In addition to her efforts to attain perhaps the most prestigious scholarship in the United States, Hansen has expanded her involvement across campus.
One of her most notable involvements is her participation in Trails for Tails. Trails for Tails is a class of Honors students who have been working feverishly to organize an endurance event to raise money for the Ocean Conservancy and marine life in Florida. The event took place over spring break and entailed both running and kayaking from FGCU to the southernmost point in the continental US, Key West, and then all the way back. The Pennsylvania native’s role in the organization has been to continuously maintain social media among other things for the impressive group that has raised over $14,000.
In recognition of her excellence in a vast array of areas, Hansen will be inducted into the FGCU Hall of Fame later this week. She will become just the fourth athlete in FGCU history to be honored with a Hall of Fame induction. The extremely selective designation is the highest recognition given to student leaders at FGCU and is “reserved for those students who have demonstrated superior leadership, integrity and achievement through leadership activities, service and scholarship”. Hansen has clearly embodied each of the aforementioned qualities throughout her illustrious college career.
Her remarkable success in all facets of life has not gone unnoticed by those around her. Teammate, roommate and close friend Jenna Cobb couldn’t say enough about Hansen’s impact on anyone she comes across.
“Sarah [Hansen] is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met in everything she does, whether it is on the court, in the classroom, or just as a friend. She gives 100 percent in everything she does and I couldn’t ask for a better teammate on and off the floor.”
Hansen’s teammates have had the opportunity to see her work hard on a day-to-day basis, however, her character and humility are also on display in her interaction with complete strangers.
At the conclusion of every home game, Hansen and her teammates stay on the court to mingle with the many remaining fans hoping to spark a conversation. She is always eager to share a moment with others, whether it is with a passionate elderly sports enthusiast or an adoring five-year old hoping to get a picture. It is evident that the accomplished 22-year old treats all with respect and kindness, never considering herself above any one person.
While Hansen has made her mark on this year’s outstanding basketball team and the surrounding community, she has also continued to put the finishing touches on a pristine legacy at FGCU that not many can come close to competing with.
Coach Karl Smesko also took some time to reminisce about Hansen’s impact on the team since he recruited her out of General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
“She has meant a lot to us over the years. We’ve definitely had good players, but Sarah’s been the best over the course of the longest time and just had an amazing career here”.
He may have summed it up best when asked about the impact Hansen has had on the program.
“She has been our all-time best player”.
You can add all-time greatest FGCU women’s basketball player to the list of things Hansen has accomplished. While some delusional people might debate the merits of her numerous feats, one thing is for certain. Sarah Hansen now has a lot to smile about.