By Gideon Rubin
Sierra Campisano walked into the Torrey Pines gym with modest expectations when she went out for the varsity girls basketball team as a freshman last fall.
“I hoped to make a difference and be a part of the team but I didn’t think I’d have that big an impact,” she said.
Her early assessment couldn’t have been much further off the mark.
In her varsity debut, Campisano scored 27 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked 15 shots in a 75-46 nonleague victory over Ramona on Nov. 29 — a performance that earned her Star of the Week by the prestigious Cal-Hi Sports publication.
But after a magical first month in which she posted a double-double in every game she suited up, Campisano, experienced a devastating setback when potentially life-threatening complications from a burst appendicitis she experienced over the holidays required a second surgery.
After a six-week absence, Campisano, an athletic 6-foot-2 post player whose potential is as limitless as her enthusiasm, has returned in time to lead the Falcons into the San Diego Section playoffs.
The Falcons (11-16), who are seeded ninth in the Division I playoffs, were scheduled to play No. 8 Eastlake (17-10) on Tuesday night.
The Falcons lost eight straight games during a period in which Campisano and several other players were out with injuries.
And although Campisano by her own admission isn’t anywhere close to 100 percent since losing an estimated 24 pounds of muscle, she nevertheless remains a formidable presence.
Campisano scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds in her first game back (a 62-57 Palomar League loss to Poway on Feb. 8). She followed that up with 18 points and 10 boards in a 84-41 league win against Canyon Crest Academy on Feb. 15.
Campisano is averaging 19.8 points, 15.5 rebounds and 7.3 blocks per game.
As Campisano continues to regain her strength, the Falcons figure to be a potentially dangerous team should they advance deep into the playoffs.
“With her on the floor we’re like a whole different team,” Torrey Pines coach David McClurg said. “Just her presence on the court, even if she didn’t do anything, is something, and at 50 percent (of full strength) she’s getting us a dozen points, she’s getting us a dozen rebounds and she’s blocking shots.
Perhaps more importantly, Campisano has emerged as the team’s inspirational leader.
“It’s just uplifting for the whole team to see her out there,” McClurg said.
Campisano’s emergence as a dominant player at such an early stage of her development is almost unheard of.
“It’s very unusual,” McClurg said. “It’s not very common that you have a freshman that comes in and starts, and it’s certainly not common that you have a freshman come in and put up the numbers she did the first few games against girls who are literally three years older than her.”
McClurg said that most freshman post players tend to be one-dimensional, playing mostly with their backs to the basket. Campisano, whose club background includes playing on the elite Sol travel team, has advanced ball-handling skills for a high school player. She sometimes brings the ball up the court.