Athlete of the year: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

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Shatori Walker-Kimbrough can't stand losing in a video game, let alone a high school sports competition.

"I could be going against someone shooting a paper towel into a trash bag, and I have to win," Walker-Kimbrough said. "I can't stress enough how much I hate losing. I have to win at everything."

This past school year, Walker-Kimbrough came close to reaching her goal. She won just about everything.

Walker-Kimbrough was a dominating player on Hopewell High School's volleyball team that won a WPIAL championship. Then, while leading the Hopewell basketball team to a WPIAL title, Walker-Kimbrough had a postseason performance for the ages. And, on top of that, she came close to winning a WPIAL track and field title in the spring, finishing second in the triple jump.

Three sports. Three memorable seasons. One great athlete.

Walker-Kimbrough, who finished her junior year in June, is the Post-Gazette Female Athlete of the Year for the 2011-12 school year. The award takes into consideration all athletes in the WPIAL and City League.

"She takes wanting to win and being the best to another level, and I don't care whether it's playing cards with friends or a vocabulary quiz," said Jeff Homziak, Hopewell's girls basketball coach.

"We lost a game at team camp earlier this summer at Duquesne University. She just got very quiet and kept to herself. She can't stand the losing, and she sometimes puts undue pressure on herself to win because she knows people look at her to put teams on her back."

Walker-Kimbrough is the rare high school athlete who is talented enough individually to carry a team. She was all-state in volleyball and had a terrific basketball season. She had one of the best postseasons in WPIAL history, averaging 31.5 points in four games. Then, in the WPIAL Class AAA final, the player with two last names was a one-girl show. She had one of the best championship game performances in WPIAL history, with 35 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots in a 50-34 victory against South Park. She also set a Class AAA championship-game record, making 16 of 16 free throws.

During the season Walker-Kimbrough played everything from point guard to center and she averaged 25.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.9 steals and 1.5 blocks. She has 1,676 career points and has been a first-team all-state selection two years in a row.

"Because volleyball is not my main sport, I never really pictured myself winning WPIAL volleyball," Walker-Kimbrough said. "It was nice, but the one thing I always worked for was winning basketball. To actually achieve that goal, and knowing how hard I worked for it, that felt good."

You'll have a hard time coming up with many female athletes in the WPIAL over the years who had Division I colleges recruiting them for two sports. Some Division I schools wanted Walker-Kimbrough, who is 5 feet 11, for volleyball.

More colleges wanted her for basketball, though, and last weekend she accepted a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Maryland. The Terrapins are a top women's program, and they won an NCAA title only six years ago.

Those who know Walker-Kimbrough will tell you her work ethic and her desire to learn also have played a huge role in her success. Sherman McBride is assistant football coach/head track coach at Aliquippa High School and lives four apartments away from Walker-Kimbrough.

"If I see her outside, there is a good chance she'll have a basketball in her hand," McBride said. "And she's never at a loss for learning. She'll pick the brain of anybody. I remember her a few years ago asking me different things, like how to gain weight, what drills she could do. She's just like a sponge, absorbing as much knowledge as she can."

Homziak said, "She is a kid who wants to understand why you are doing something. Once she understands, she goes out and tries to perfect it. Those are the kind of intangibles that a lot of the special kids have."

Walker-Kimbrough's slender body, overall athleticism and striking physical looks often draw comparisons with Swin Cash, the former McKeesport star basketball player who has made the U.S. Olympic women's team for the third time.

But Walker-Kimbrough comes from an athletic family. Her father, Vance, averaged 19 points a game as a senior at Aliquippa High School. An uncle, Craedel Kimbrough, was a star running back at Hopewell who went on to play at the University of Cincinnati. She also is a distant cousin of Verquan Kimbrough, a championship boxer from Beaver County.

But Walker-Kimbrough will tell you the person who has had the biggest influence on her athletic career -- and her life -- never was a great athlete.

"Even though there is not an ounce of athletic ability in my mom [Andrea Kimbrough], she is my biggest motivator and my biggest support system," Walker-Kimbrough said. "She does a lot of things people don't see.

"Like in basketball, our practice might end up at 5. She'll come to pick me up, but I might stay an extra hour to shoot. She'll just wait in the car, letting me go until I'm finished. She is the one who has done so much for me."



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