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story.lead_photo.caption 5/9/02 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON Ozark's Sarah Pfeifer acknowledges the crowd after winning the AAA girls high jump at the State Track and Field Championships Thursday afternoon at Hot Springs High School.

Sarah Pfeifer played on teams that won 99 games and two state championships as a star basketball player at Ozark High School.

But it's a game that she did not win that she often reflects on the most, a heartbreaking loss to Highland in the 2002 state championship game.

"You know, it is what it is," Pfeifer said reflecting back. "I haven't forgotten it, but I have moved on. They were the better team that day."

Now a coach and teacher in Erie, Colo., Pfeifer said she sometimes uses that tough loss to emphasize to her team about the hard work and dedication needed to win at the highest level.

Those two traits are what set the talented Pfeifer apart from almost every opponent on the court said her high school coach Ron Rippy.

"Her day to day work ethic was amazing. Practice, game, weight room, summer open gym, it was all the same to her," said Rippy, who retired from coaching in 2004. "No one could out-work her, and she was so smart. Sarah not only knew every aspect and angle of what she was supposed to do, she knew what the other four players were supposed to do as well and made sure that they were all where they were supposed to be."

In the 2018 yearbook at Erie High School, Pfeifer's photo shows her wearing a hard hat and yellow safety vest. She and several teachers wore these as sort of a joke as the school was in the midst of a construction program and the teachers were not allowed in their classrooms without a hard hat.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RUSSELL POWELL
Ozarks Sarah Pfeifer tries to get around Highlands Ginger Murphy in Pine Bluff for the Class AAA State Championship March 9, 2002.

"We thought it would be kind of funny, so about 10 of us did it," she said.

If ever a player epitomized that lunch-pail, hard hat mentality, it was Pfeifer, Rippy said.

"Sarah never took a play off, never took a drill off, never," he said. "She was blessed with a lot of talent. A lot of players have talent. But what made her different was that she had the heart and intensity like no player I'd ever coached."

Pfeifer was not just a star on the basketball court, she also excelled in track and field, winning a state championship and setting a class record in the shot put of 41-feet, 9.5 inches that stood until 2018.

"I loved track because you stand alone as an individual," she said. "My son is a hockey player, but I will make him do an individual sport when he gets older because I was him to experience that, too."

She competed in the state heptathlon as a sophomore and junior, finishing third as a junior. She also played softball for the Lady Hillbillies.

But it was basketball where Pfeifer really excelled and she turned that into a scholarship at the University of Arkansas, where she quickly became a Bud Walton Arena fan favorite with her fearless play against opponents often much taller than her 6-foot frame.

As a freshman, she broke her nose against Southwest Missouri State and came back the next game with a protective mask and continued her physical style of play without missing a beat. Injuries to her shoulder and a torn ACL cost her two seasons, but she refused to quit and finished her career at Arkansas by scoring 1,056 points to go with 565 rebounds over 124 games.

"It was very frustrating, especially the timing of the injuries," she said. "I had done all the hard stuff, all the off-season sprints and the weight-lifting and all that. It was frustrating to miss the good stuff, being out there with my teammates and playing in the SEC."

Pfeifer earned two degrees at Arkansas including industrial engineering (2006) and a masters of education in recreation and sports management (2008). She was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year twice (2005, 2007) and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll five times.

Ozark's Sarah Pfeifer clears the bar during competition at the State Track and Field Championships Thursday, May 9, 2002, at Hot Springs High School.

In 2015 she was named a Southeastern Conference Women's Legend member. She taught and coached in the Springdale public school system for several years before moving to Erie.

It's her days as a Lady Hillbilly that she will long be remembered for.

"There were great teams at Ozark before I started playing," she said. "They already had a great tradition and I was lucky to be a part of that and to play in a town that supported us. I don't think I really appreciated what it was like to play in front of a packed gym every night until I started coaching in places that are not like that."

And Pfeifer never disappointed the fans who came to see her play, even when the outcome ended in an agonizing loss.

Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas senior post Sarah Pfeifer, right, drives as Vanderbilt sophomore guard Jessica Mooney defends during the first half of play Thursday in Bud Walton Arena.


Who was the best athlete ever at your school? The sports staff of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will highlight 14 former prep standouts over the next two weeks.




SPORTS PLAYED Basketball, track and field

WHY HER? Pfeifer is one of the most decorated girls basketball players in the state’s history. She was named to the all-state team three times as a Lady Hillbilly and led her teams to two state championships. In three seasons on the varsity, her teams were 99-7 overall. … Was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Female Athlete of the Year in 2002 after averaging 30 points per game in leading Ozark to a 33-2 record. … In addition to her success on the basketball court, Pfeifer was a standout in track, setting a state class record in the shot put of 41-feet, 9.5 inches that stood until 2018. As a junior, she won the shot put at the Meet of Champions (all classes) and as a junior she finished third in the state heptathlon.

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