'Don't listen. Just play'
Margaret Huntington knows pain.
As Sacramento State’s relentless and undersize center, the 6-foot senior takes her share of body shots and suffers her share of floor burns, sprains and strains.
“I’m definitely feeling it, physically, being a fifth-year senior,” Huntington said. “I pretty much live in the ice bath.”
Sac State women’s coach Bunky Harkleroad is amazed at Huntington’s durability, as she constantly battles taller foes while sprinting up and down the court in his grueling, up-tempo offense.
“She goes down a lot, but she doesn’t back down,” Harkleroad said. “She plays inside for us, but there are a lot of guards who we face that are taller than her.”
Huntington has played in 105 consecutive games for Sac State. Crawling out of bed the morning after playing, she feels as if she endured a “fistfight” the night before.
“A couple of times each game, I just get whacked,” Huntington said. “I think sometimes people might get frustrated with me because my mindset is to make it annoying to guard me. I move around a lot to make it hard for them to box me out.”
Entering Sunday’s nonconference game against rival UC Davis at the Nest, Huntington leads the Big Sky Conference in rebounding at 9.4 per game. Her efforts have the Hornets tied for 10th nationally among Division I teams in offensive rebounds (18 per game), a key component to kick-starting Harkleroad’s offense.
While Sac State ranks fifth nationally in scoring (88.4 points per game), Huntington is a selective shooter. She averages 7.1 points per game, but ranks third in the conference in field-goal percentage (56.4 percent).
She had a career-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting in a 99-95 loss to Nevada on Nov. 16 and 11 points and 17 rebounds – one short of her career high – in a 97-85 win over Hofstra on Nov. 25. Her rebounding earned her a spot on the Bank of Hawaii Classic all-tournament team in Honolulu. Huntington totaled 30 rebounds in losses to New Mexico State and Youngstown State in Hawaii in the Nov. 18-20 tournament.
“I haven’t been the biggest offensive player, so my mindset since the beginning of my career here is that I need to rebound every single ball that I can,” she said. “That’s how I feel I best help my team.”
Harkleroad said Huntington also has been a great leader for a team that has been decimated by injuries, especially among its senior leaders. Forwards Gretchen Harrigan and Kyhonta Doughty have yet to play, and preseason All-Big Sky selection guard Brianna Burgos has played just nine minutes in three games as she slowly returns from knee surgery.
“Margaret has been great,” Harkleroad said. “She brings it every night, and her teammates respond.”
Huntington hasn’t been completely healthy, either. She hyperextended her knee against New Mexico State and keeps her leg heavily wrapped.
Huntington was a unsung small forward on a star-studded CIF state championship team at Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland as a senior in 2012, but was unsure if she wanted to play basketball in college. She considered focusing all her time and energy into studying for a career in film and broadcast production. Both her parents work in Bay Area broadcasting, and she’s produced several works while at Sac State.
Among them is a five-minute documentary, “Waiting for a Change.” It’s the story of Leon Burse, who is transgender and formerly played on the Sac State women’s basketball team, then as Takara “T.K.” Burse. Huntington just finished a 90-second video called “Just Play” that highlights the accomplishments of a handful of 2016 Sac State fall sports overachievers.
“My mom always taught me to explore my more creative side,” said Huntington, a three-time All-Big Sky academic selection.
But she’s glad she decided to play in basketball in college.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine not being a collegiate athlete right now. It has really shaped who I am.”