Sydnee Fipps developed her impressive shooting skills out of necessity growing up in Mariposa.
A bad miss on the makeshift dirt court near her hilltop home meant scurrying down a steep slope to retrieve the ball.
If the ball rolled far enough, she’d have to fish it out of a creek.
Through turned ankles and scraped knees and elbows, she developed her grit and talent on that same court, which her father, Kenneth, eventually fenced and paved.
Older brothers Kelin and Jaret showed no mercy in their head-to-head games with their sister. And when she complained to her mother, Linda, the former Fresno State player didn’t offer much sympathy.
“Our games would be super-heated,” said Fipps, 20, of her brothers, who are three and five years older. “I hated when they would block my shot. I’d get so mad that I’d go inside and complain to my mom. All she’d say is, ‘Well, you gotta learn.’ ”
Fipps has learned plenty. The UC Davis junior forward is one of the best players in the Big West Conference.
As a sophomore last season, Fipps, 5-foot-10, made the All-Big West Conference first team. She was the scoring leader in Big West games at 16.3 and was second overall at 17.1. Her 512 points are the most by a UC Davis sophomore.
She’s on pace for a repeat performance this season.
Fipps is averaging a team-leading 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Aggies (5-9), who host Long Beach State today. She has scored 20 or more points seven times, though she was held to 11 in Thursday’s 56-52 loss to visiting Cal State Northridge in the Aggies’ Big West opener at the Pavilion. Despite battling the flu, she still had seven rebounds and three assists.
The Matadors focused their defensive efforts on Fipps, an indication of the respect the All-Big West preseason selection has earned and the attention she’ll likely attract from other conference opponents.
“She’s someone that wants to be great,” UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross said. “We watch film with her and see things that she does that a lot of other people in women’s basketball can’t do. She has an uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket in so many different ways. She’s tough, physical and not afraid to get on the floor and mix it up a little.”
Fipps scored a team-high 13 points and had six rebounds in a 97-37 loss at top-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 5 and had a team-high 14 points with six rebounds in a 66-48 loss at No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 17.
“We go play UConn and she’s not thinking it’s UConn,” Gross said. “She’s going to the basket, drawing fouls and scoring. That shows she can compete against the top players in the country.”
Gross said UC Davis was fortunate to sign Fipps, who averaged 23.4 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior at Yosemite High School. She was heavily recruited before she tore the ACL in her right knee in an Amateur Athletic Union tournament shortly after her junior season.
UC Davis was the only school at that point to offer a scholarship, though Fipps saw it as more than a consolation prize when she decided to make an early commitment after surgery.
“What drew me to Davis so much is that when they found out I tore my ACL, they were trying to help me find doctors even though I hadn’t committed to them,” Fipps said. “I thought that was pretty cool and, honestly, I felt that Davis was a good fit for me.”
Everything worked out for the best, Linda Fipps said.
“You could tell that the UC Davis coaches were going to treat her like a daughter,” she said. “As a parent, you want your children taken care of.”
Last season was challenging for Fipps and a young Aggies team that included then-freshmen Alyson Doherty, Heidi Johnson, Celia Marfone and Molly Greubel. UCD went 12-18 overall and finished seventh in the Big West.
Those players are a year older, and the Aggies added junior Kelsey Harris, an outside scoring threat who transferred from Iowa State and is averaging 11.7 points.
“Last year made me be more a student of the game,” Fipps said. “Now we’ve matured.”
So has Fipps, as far as handling competing against the guys, though no longer her brothers.
Instead she mixes it up with a group of male UC Davis practice players Gross uses to enhance speed of play and physicality.
“They play hard, rebound and block our shots,” Fipps said, smiling. “But it’s fun. It gets us better.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.