Three years ago, Amaya Burch was a freshman who had just finished her first season of high school basketball at Timber Creek, having scored just 13 points in the parts of six games she was lucky enough to play in during the 2018-’19 school year.
Any amount of varsity play as a freshman, for most athletes, would usually be considered a successful season, but for Burch, it wasn’t the freshman season she had hoped for.
“I didn’t really play varsity that much; I got to play a little, but definitely not a lot at all,” Burch said. “I knew I wanted to start and eventually reach 1,000 points. That was a goal of mine before I even got to Timber Creek, so I knew I had to get to work to show that I deserved to start sophomore year.”
Three years later, Burch has concluded her Timber Creek basketball career after a season where the senior led the Chargers in points, rebounds and steals to help propel the team to a 21-6 record and a South Jersey Group 3 sectional championship appearance. A sectional finals appearance and season of at least 20 wins last occurred for Timber Creek during the 2014-’15 season, when the Chargers were still in the Olympic Conference.
For that, Burch is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021-’22 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Timber Creek coach MollyAnne Light remembers her first interaction with Burch two summers ago, after she had recently been approved as the program’s new head coach. Upon her first meeting with the team — outdoors on the bleachers because of COVID — Light had a clear message for Burch and her teammates.
“I told them that if they buy into this program and go on this journey, that you’re going to be very successful,” Light said. “And from then on, she really bought into the program from that day on, and she took the initiative the past two years as a vocal leader to keep everyone on track and moving forward.
“My success the past two seasons with the program (is) due to my players, especially a player like (Burch) … “ the coach added. “Watching her grow as a player physically and mentally over these past two seasons has been outstanding.”
Burch ended the past season as the top scorer in the Tri-County Conference, despite a mid-season switch in the Chargers’ offensive philosophy. It meant revamping that offense to allow for more movement and production from other players.
The switch also meant that, instead of Burch bringing up the ball, freshman Nal’La Bennett would call the plays and take more control, so Burch could play anywhere on the court.
“I don’t think we would have been as successful this season without her buying into a different philosophy on offense … with her learning to be a little more patient with things and taking the lead to get some of our underclassmen to appreciate that, too. It made us better as a team,” Light said.
The switch ultimately helped Timber Creek defend its Tri-County Conference Bracket A title this season.
Light’s trust and belief that Burch would be a stellar captain on and off the court allowed the player to have her most successful high-school season yet, breaking out statistically after showing great promise during last year’s COVID-shortened season.
“Coach [Light] was always pushing me to be better and do what was best for the team, and I feel like I’ve grown as a player and as a leader a lot due to her,” Burch said. “This was clearly the best season of my high-school career.
“It all kind of fell into place, along with me just feeling more confident with all the different things I do on the court.”