Benefield: Rincon Valley Christian's all-time scoring leader Caroline Chambers has 2,000 points in her sights

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Caroline Chambers recalls one distinct feeling from her early days of high school basketball: The jitters.

“I remember being very nervous,” the Rincon Valley Christian senior said. “I had a lot of learning to do. I hadn’t really been a part of a basketball team with set plays.”

Apparently she has learned a thing or two in the last four years. The player who as a freshman had only a smattering of basketball experience on Tuesday broke Rincon Valley Christian’s career scoring record in the Eagles’ 49-25 road win against Tomales High.

Chambers’ 17 points on the night put her 10 points ahead of Teri Higgenbottom’s 11-year-old career record of 1,885.

She’s averaging 22 points per game and has a considerable stretch of her senior season still in front of her so is likely to see her career total — and the record — rise considerably.

“She is just a really good shooter from mid-range,” Eagles’ coach (and Teri’s dad) Richard Higgenbottom said. “She’s can create her own shot, she flashes to the ball, she can handle the ball. She’s a well-rounded player.”

The numbers back it up. Chambers, who is six-feet tall, is not only the most prolific scorer in Eagles’ history, she’s also the second-best rebounder ever, having crossed the 1,000 boards mark last month. In her senior campaign, in addition to those 22 points per game, she’s averaging nearly 10 rebounds and three steals.

Not bad for a player who didn’t play organized hoops until she was 12.

Chambers said she had long wanted to play basketball – her dad played – but she had to meet some family obligations first. Basketball was the carrot.

“I wasn’t allowed to play basketball until I had mastered Team Chambers, until I understood what that meant,” she said.

Team Chambers, in short, she said, is showing responsibility to, and honor for, family – her parents and her two younger sisters. For Chambers, a devout Christian, faith plays a major role in her life and guiding principles.

At 12 she earned the green light to play for Stony Point Christian in a church league. And then she strayed. She’d rather not say how, but said “It wasn’t good. I knew it was wrong. I wasn’t honoring my parents.”

She was pulled from the team.

“I had to write an apology letter to my team and coach,” she said. “I had to seek forgiveness not only with my parents but before god.”

“There were a lot of tears,” she said.

But Chambers said that Team Chambers and principles of teamwork and responsibility has helped her learn how to become a better teammate and eventually a leader.

“Basketball is a team sport,” she said. “My family, at home, has really helped me translate that.”

It’s real. When I asked Chambers what becoming the record holder means to her, she used the word “team” five times in 17 seconds.

Typically Rincon Valley Christian presents a basketball to players who have surpassed significant milestones. Chambers is on track for getting at least three balls this season – for passing the 2,000 point mark, for breaking the all-time scoring record and for grabbing 1,000 career rebounds.

Chambers declined multiple trophies. One ball will be just fine.

“It’s not really the thing that I want. I’ll remember the moment forever,” she said of the scoring record. “I don’t need a ball to remind me that it happened, I have wonderful people around me and just a fun memory to have.”

What makes this great is that Chambers can’t even recall the moment or the play in which she passed the mark. The game wasn’t stopped, no timeout, no fanfare. She just kept playing. That, according to Higgenbottom, is in line with Chambers’ personality.

“We didn’t bring any attention to it. We just played the game,” he said. “It’s a team sport and she’s a team player.”

Cardinal Newman coach Monica Mertle saw that last summer. Chambers, looking for a challenge and perhaps a chance to play in front of college coaches, asked to join Mertle’s club team for a showcase in Las Vegas.

Mertle invited her to a practice to see how she did.

“The first thing I noticed is her versatility,” she said. “Great height, great length, great athleticism. She could play any position on the floor. A coach loves that in a player because you can always have them on the floor. Her versatility is really special.”

Chambers called that experience amazing.

“That was kind of eye-opening for the next level of basketball,” she said. “For me it was like, ‘Wow, this is so much fun.’”

Higgenbottom said Chambers’ ceiling is incredibly high. She’s a natural athlete and has the work ethic of someone who just loves the game.

“This girl is loaded with passion to get better,” Higgenbottom said. “Every practice, every game she is just thrilled to improve.”

“She has a great attitude, works hard, is a great student,” he said. “And she’s fast. As coaches, you can’t make them taller or faster. She’s fast, she’s athletic.”

Proof? She’s been a standout runner on the Eagles’ cross country team.

As much as Chambers seems loathe acknowledging her own feats, she will be forced to take a public bow of sorts on Feb. 5, when the Eagles host their senior night festivities.

Standard protocol is for seniors to be honored for their achievements and to announce where they are headed next. For Chambers, that is Henderson, Tennessee.

Chambers is signed on to play for NAIA Div. 1 Freed-Hardeman University, a private Christian college, while studying nursing.

“I really feel like god has put it into my heart to go into nursing,” she said.

When Chambers visited the Freed-Hardeman campus with her mom she was sold.

“They were super wonderful and welcoming,” she said. “I am not sure where I will fit in their lineup in terms of playing quite yet. I’m just excited to play and learn.”

Mertle expressed zero doubt that Chambers can play at the next level.

“I think the culture of the school is really important to her and she wanted to be at a smaller school,” Mertle said. “I know she will do a great job at that level and I think she will be really, really successful.”

“She is a great person. She is a great player,” she said. “She was a joy to coach.”

Chambers expresses nothing but gratitude – that she found basketball, that she had patient coaches and teammates, and that she gets to keep playing after high school.

Nerves? They aren’t all gone when she steps on the court, but the feeling is likely something closer to excitement these days. She’s come a long way in four years.

“I was very nervous when I first walked in,” she said. “But thanks to great coaching and great teammates it’s become a sport that I really, really love and I’m excited that I get to continue to play.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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