Kennard-Dale girls’ basketball player Sara Tarbert will play her collegiate basketball at Division I UMBC.
Kennard-Dale girls' basketball player Sara Tarbert will play her collegiate basketball at Division I UMBC. (Daily Record / Sunday News -- File)

Jeff Stratmeyer was watching a ninth-grade, summer league girls' basketball game several years ago, when he was greeted by a most astounding sight: There was a rising seventh-grader, playing up with the older girls, pulling down a rebound and dribbling the length of the court with her left hand. When the player reached the basket, she coolly laid the ball in with her opposite hand.

It was around that moment Stratmeyer, Kennard-Dale's girls' basketball coach, realized Sara Tarbert was going to be something special.

"I remember my mouth dropping and just saying 'Wow.'" Stratmeyer recalled this week. "I didn't have any varsity players at the time who would think of dribbling down the court with their opposite hand."

Since then, Tarbert has authored a high school career that already places her among the best players in Kennard-Dale's history. In the process, the 5-foot-11 forward also caught the attention of some Division I college programs.

One of them in particular stood out: The University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Last week, Tarbert finalized her commitment to the Retrievers when she signed a letter of intent. Tarbert had verbally committed to the school last summer.

UMBC was the first college to extend a scholarship offer to Tarbert, although she had been in discussion with other schools at the time of her commitment. She becomes the first Division I commit ever to emerge from the Rams girls' program.

"I've been playing basketball in AAU since fifth grade. This is something I've worked for," Tarbert said this week. "To be the first girl in Kennard-Dale to play D-I is amazing."

Tarbert was a YAIAA Division I/II all-star last season, when she averaged a double-double for the Rams (19.5 points, 10.1 rebounds).

While her height makes her a handful for high school defenses, Tarbert also possesses a complete skill set -- the type Stratmeyer first noticed years ago. Tarbert has shifted out to the wing at times for Kennard-Dale, and has even bought the ball up the court against pressure defenses.

"It's nice to have somebody to go out there and you know she's going to score 15 to 20 points per game," Stratmeyer said.

Tarbert said she will likely play small forward at UMBC. She originally visited the school in June, then gave a verbal commitment at the end of July.

"It's close enough to home, but still far away," Tarbert said. "Great school academically. Everyone there, the staff was awesome."

Tarbert will enter her senior season with 1,137 career points, 297 behind the program's all-time leading scorer, Kelly Bragg. Tarbert is already Kennard-Dale's leading rebounder (729) and ranks second in steals and third in assists on the Rams' career lists.

Tarbert has a individual goal this season to reach 1,000 career rebounds. More important, she said, is getting the Rams back to the state playoffs after last year's 12-11 campaign.

"I feel like we have all the personnel we need to get there," Tarbert said. "I think we should be able to go really far and capitalize on everything."

@johnsclayton; 771-2045