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Monday, July 17, 2017

Sara Wood- Leadership

Sara Wood was a starting guard on the Streaks varsity teams in 1994, 1995, and 1996. During that time the Streaks went 82-15, won two WB6 titles, three Regionals, two Sectionals, finished 3rd in State.

Sara was one of the toughest and most competitive players to ever play for Galesburg HS basketball.

Sara was a relentless worker in high school. She stayed after EVERY practice for 30-45 minutes to do a ball handling and shooting routine. She went from being a below average shooter as a sophomore to being an exceptional shooter as a junior and senior.

Sara worked so hard to improve her ball handling that she go right or left with equal skill. When we played Stevenson HS in the State Semi-finals in 1996, the opposing team’s scouting report listed Sara as being left handed.

The IHSA rules did not allow coaches to coach players during summer games until after 2000. Sara served as coach for our varsity team during the summer games when she was in college. Sara was a tough, no nonsense type leader. Once when we were playing at Maine West, the varsity team lost and played with little energy or competitiveness. When the game ended, Sara took them outside and for a good 15 minutes gave them a stern lecture on competing and toughness.

Sara has gone onto have a career in the military. She just recently moved from active duty in the Marines, and is now in the Marine reserves. Having known Sara’s competitive nature in high school, it is not surprising to know she has had a successful career in the Marines.

I had a chance to ask her questions about her career in the Marines.   

Massey- You played, competed as a freshmen and sophomore in basketball, but somewhere along the line- you took things to another level in terms of your work and your commitment. You worked hard but at some point just took things to another level.
Do you remember was there a moment, a game, an event that caused a change in your approach?

Sara- The summer before my freshman year I played with the sophomore team and would sometimes play with the varsity as a practice player (Ann Henderson, Christy Hickey…) and noticed how much stronger and faster those girls were than I was at the time.  That’s when I started dedicating myself more to the weight room and played more pickup ball at both the YMCA and Carver Center.  Ami (Pendry) and I both played on the sophomore team that year and I knew that if I didn’t get better, both in terms of shooting and playing defense that I wouldn’t make the varsity the following year so that summer before my sophomore year was really focused on getting better.  We had a good team that year but I also knew that Molly Watson would probably start as a sophomore at point guard and that if I wanted to start my junior year I would have to be someone that could basically play any of the guard positions, meaning I would need to get better with my left hand and also be in better shape.  I really just wanted to play and didn’t really care what position (1,2,or 3) so I thought that being more versatile would give me a better shot in terms of playing time.

Massey- As a high school athlete, did you have an athlete who you looked up to?

Sara- When I was a younger and going through Streaks camp I always looked up to Cammi Heiman, The Hickey Sisters, Ann Henderson, Shannon Johnson, Linda Carlson, Tiffany Sibley… I loved watching Duke basketball, especially Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.  I also looked up to a lot of my teammates.  Steph Mitchell was a great shooter and Ami, Molly, and Jen Bulkeley worked really hard in the off season so they were great models to follow. 

Massey- Your dad had been a successful high school and college player, how did that impact your goals, work ethic, approach?

Sara- My Dad has always been very supportive of whatever I wanted to do but told me that I had to put in the time and work if I wanted to play.  Natural ability can only take you so far and that there are always going to be people that are stronger and faster.  Learning the game, studying both my opponents and my teammates was always emphasized.  Practice, practice, practice…always practice harder than you play the game so when game time does come you are used to operating a higher level when you are tired.  Know your teammates and put them in good positions, recognize opportunities on the floor not just for yourself but for others.  He always emphasized being a good teammate and when you make mistakes move on. 

Massey- What is your present title/rank? What was your position when you retired from the Marines?

Sara- I’m actually not retired, just not on active duty anymore (in the Reserves).  I’m a Captain and will be promoted to Major in the next few months.  I am an Intelligence Officer as a Marine and as a civilian I work in Military Information Operations in Quantico, VA.

Massey- What was Marine boot camp like?

Sara- I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS) which is basically boot camp for Officers (10 weeks), followed by 6 months at The Basic School (TBS) followed by your MOS school – for me that was Signal Intelligence and that was about 5 months long.  OCS suck, as it should.  We started with a class of 48 women and only graduated 15.  It’s very physically demanding and a lot of women drop out due to injuries, especially stress fracture due to the weight we carry.  But it should be hard, as the job is hard and we shouldn’t lower the standards just because its challenging.  My class only graduated 12 women out of over 200 at TBS, but that school is more focused on becoming a Platoon Commander and leadership.  I think that the best mindset to take going into these types of schools is that it sucks for everyone and to not focus on yourself.  Focus on whatever mission you have to accomplish whether it is getting through an obstacle course or taking a test.  You are basically just a number and they want to teach you how to be both a leader and a follower; basically you have to be a team player.

Massey- How stressful is your job as a Marine?

Sara- It could be stressful at times, especially during deployments.  The stakes can be high, especially in a conflict zone and unfortunately people you care about will be in danger and some will get injured or even die.  Being away from family is difficult, especially during the holidays but that is the job.

Massey- Did having been a high school athlete make a difference for you as a Marine?

Sara- I think it made a huge difference.  Being in good physical shape going in was extremely important but more importantly was knowing how to be on a team.  Sometime you need to be a leader and sometimes you need to take a backseat and know when to follow and execute orders.  Knowing how to dust yourself off when you fail or make a mistake is also incredibly important and although I was a part of some great teams we suffered some tough losses and had to get up that next day and get after it again.  I believe that you learn a lot more when you fail than when you win all the time.  Things don’t always go your way and being able to accept that and make adjustments is something that I learned from high school athletics.

Massey- In the role as a leader in the Marines- what things have you learned about leadership?

Sara- Mission accomplishment and taking care of your Marines are the most important things and you can’t really do one without the others. You are going to make decisions that not everyone is going to like and at the end of the day you are the responsible one. Lead by example, don’t expect your Marines to be in shape or stay late at work if you are not willing to do the same.  Listen to people and seek out advice.  Try to look at each situation from someone else’s point of view; it’s easy to get comfortable and do things the way they have always been done.

Massey- In the role as a leader in the Marines- what seem to be the qualities that allow a Marine to be successful, and what are the qualities which serve as blocks to their success?

Sara- Hard work, always be learning something, be willing to admit when you don’t know something.  Talk to people, it’s easy to get caught up in email trap but I always get more stuff done and have better results when I talk to people face to face and work as a group. Set goals, both short term and long term and balance your family life.  Have other things you enjoy besides work.  Marines that struggle tend to be know it alls and never want to try or learn something new.  Doing the minimum instead of focusing on creating the best product or pushing yourself physically.  It’s not a 9-5 job, you’re a Marine 24/7.

Massey- You still work out. How long is a typical workout and how many days per week?

Sara- I workout everyday, usually twice a day (2 hrs).  Usually I trail run with my dogs around 5:30 in the morning and go to Crossfit in the evenings after work.  I’ve also been recently doing some MMA type training and a lot of hiking.  I still love lifting weights and will basically try anything.

Massey- What lessons have you learned as a Marine that you would share with high school athletes?

Sara- Be willing to put in the extra work.  If you want more you have to do more.  I played 3 sports plus did some boxing at the GYAC while I was in high school and never felt burned out.  I played basketball year-round but I felt that the other sports helped make me a better athlete overall.  Study whatever sport you are playing and play against people that are better than you.  Be coachable and be willing to make sacrifices for the team.  Not everyone can be the best player but everyone can be a good teammate.

Massey- Lastly, you have travelled extensively. Of all the places you have been, where would you like to go back to as a civilian/tourist someday?

Sara- Haha, every place I’ve been has been pretty terrible but I did spend a few weeks in Belize training their Coast Guard and Police Force and it was beautiful and the people were really nice.  I floated past a lot of great places when I was on a ship for about 9 months so it would be great to actually go to some of those places like Greece and Spain.  I’d also like to spend a few weeks in Australia someday.

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