By REGINA WEISS
University of Mary Washington senior captain Sam Partonen has enjoyed personal and team success as a member of the women’s basketball team. During her three years at UMW, she earned a first team title on the All-Capital Athletic Conference women’s basketball team in both 2012 and 2013, and she joined her teammates among the Elite eight in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament, also in 2012.
Her coach and teammates agree that she is the thread that ties the team together.
Coach Deena Applebury called Partonen a “key contributing factor” in all the success of their team.
Aby Diop agrees that Partonen is a great influence to the team through her positivity and willingness to help her teammates, on and off the court.
“Specifically on the court, Sam is a phenomenal player who works hard every second she is on the court,” said Diop, a senior forward. “As a captain and leader she is always motivating us and leading vocally and by example.”
Recently, Partonen achieved honors for her work outside the gym. She was one of four College Athletic Conference student athletes nominated to the Allstate Good Works Team. The Allstate Good Works Team recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions in their communities through volunteerism and civic service.
For Partonen, it’s not about the individual accolades, but about being part of the team.
“Our team is the most positive, hard-working team I know, and that’s the only reason I am able to experience any kind of individual success,” she said.
Community service is an integral part of the team’s off the court activities, she said.
In the fall, the team volunteered at the Richmond NASCAR race, serving food and cleaning dishes. The team also participates in Rappahannock Riverfest every year and volunteered at UMW’s Good Neighbor Day last year.
“Coach Applebury instills in us the importance of giving back,” Partonen said.
In her last year with the UMW Eagles, Partonen said she is ready to win, and she believes her team is too.
“This year, I think we have a team that is not only capable of doing great things, but is also extremely willing to do whatever it takes,” Partonen said.
Since her freshman year, starting as point guard in every game, Partonen said she found herself through playing basketball at UM, thanks to her basketball family.
“I have not only discovered the person that I am, but I have also learned to be confident in who that person is,” Partonen said. “I don’t think I would be able to say that if it weren’t for basketball, my teammates, and Coach Applebury.”
Partonen, who grew up in Burke, Va., is an English major and plans to pursue her master’s at UMW through the secondary education program next year.
Partonen started playing basketball in kindergarten, following in her older brother’s footsteps. To her, dad was always “coach.”
“The only reason I can successfully shoot a basketball is because of all the times my dad told me to ‘reach into the cookie jar,’” she said.
Family is central to Partonen, and she calls her parents the two most important people in her life.
With the support of her family, Partonen played basketball through middle school and high school, serving as manager of her high school’s team in seventh and eighth grade. She moved on to star on the varsity team as a high school freshman, starting every year and serving as captain for three.
Her high school coach and mentor, Coach Dade, still cheers her on at some of her UMW games.
Partonen, who was valedictorian of Robinson High School, said she chose UMW because of its strong basketball program, but found more than a sport.
“I’m fortunate in the fact that I have had an unforgettable time playing basketball here but that I’ve also gotten a really, really good education,” she said.
During her freshman year at UMW, Partonen was a new face on the team with a coveted starting position. The support from her and teammates helped her succeed in her new role.
“Coach Applebury has a way of believing in you even in the moments when you don’t believe in yourself,” Partonen said.
The team bond that existed as a freshman for Partonen is still in full swing today. Team chemistry, Partonen said, is one of the program’s most essential components.
“Whether we are in study hall helping to tutor the younger girls, at Seaco having breakfast as a team or on the court rotating on defense, we always have each other’s backs,” she said.
Partonen is central to that bond, Applebury said.
“Through her leadership and mentoring abilities, along with her ability to take over a game and control the tempo for us, Sam helps mold our team together,” Applebury said.
Last year, Partonen led the team with 102 assists and averaged 12 points per game. This season she averages 11.7 points per game, helping her team stay consistent with a 9-4 overall season thus far.
In her nearly 20 years of playing basketball, family has been the constant.
“I had my older brother growing up playing in the cul-de-sac, but now it really feels like I have 14 sisters,” she said.