(Above — Olivia Baptista and Hayden Lehmann smile moments after signing to continue their athletic careers at Defiance College and Siena Heights University, respectively.)
FREMONT – Over the last two years at Fremont Ross, few athletes have had as much impact on their respective programs than Olivia Baptista for girls basketball and Hayden Lehmann on the football team.
Thursday afternoon the seniors reaped the rewards of their hard work and leadership as they signed to continue their careers at the collegiate level. Baptista will continue her hoops career at Defiance College, an NCAA Division III program, while Lehmann will play quarterback at NAIA Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.
Leaving a legacy in a short time
Baptista left a major mark on the Lady Giants hoops program despite being a part of it for just two seasons.
She transferred to Ross from Bellevue between her sophomore and junior seasons and joining the Lady Giants re-energized Baptista on the court.
“Growing up I always wanted to (play collegiately), then for a little bit things kind of got rough and I wasn’t sure about basketball anymore,” Baptista said. “I don’t know what to call it, the fire was burning out, maybe I’d been doing it so long. Then starting new (at Ross), and my new teammates were so welcoming and coach Vela and everyone, the whole community was so ready for me to be a part of the team, that really pumped me up.”
In her two seasons in the purple and white, Baptista averaged 10 points a game along with four rebounds and three steals and three assists. She holds the Lady Giant program records for 3-pointers in a game, with seven, and single-season free-throw percentage (81 percent) and, along with her sister Brooklyn, is tied for second in career 3-pointers, with 81.
She brought the Lady Giants leadership on and off the court throughout her career. Coach Juan Vela’s only regret was not having had her for the full four years of her high school career.
“It’s nice to have a player who likes to work and loves basketball and is good to her teammates,” Vela said. “I’ve had players like that before and Olivia is another one who has helped this program get to the next level. She’s a ball-player.”
While she frequently found herself handling the ball for Ross, particularly her senior season, Baptista is happy to move to her natural position of shooting guard, using her skillset to drain shots and score points.
“The biggest thing is she’ll have guards around her to get her open for shots because that’s her biggest strength, is her shot,” Vela said. “She’s a catch-and-shoot kind of guard. The second thing is her basketball IQ. She’s smart enough to play the game at the next level.”
Baptista carries a 3.942 grade-point average and plans to major in biology and pursue a career as a physician’s assistant. She said Defiance coach Allen King set the school apart by how much he and the program wanted her to play for them.
“I had a couple other schools that just sent me letters in the mail, nothing really big,” she said. “Coach King texted me, he came to watch me play. He’s the one who really reached out for me.”
A record-setting career moves to the next level
In two seasons as the Little Giants’ starting quarterback, Hayden Lehmann etched his name all over Ross’ football record book. His 4,158 career passing yards ranks him third all-time and his 34 touchdown passes are the second-most in Ross history. He holds single-game records for yards and touchdowns and his five career 300-yard games are three more than any other quarterback.
But what he’ll remember about his time as a Little Giants – and how he wants to be remembered – goes beyond the individual accolades.
“I’m going to remember all the good times we had as a football team and the struggles we had to get the success, in our eyes, the way we wanted it to be,” Lehmann said. “I want to be remembered here as a good person in the community too and someone who knows to do the right things and stay out of trouble and show the younger kids what’s right.”
Lehmann’s level-headedness and calm under pressure is what the Little Giants will miss the most, said coach Chad Long.
“His confidence, his swagger that he brings,” Long said. “We could be down by three touchdowns, like we were against Findlay, but we weren’t worried because at any time we can come back, with his arm and what he can do. And that’s why we did (come back).
“That’s something we don’t have, that for-sure quarterback, next year who has that experience and that trust factor where late in the game who can count on? We don’t have that moving forward.”
Lehmann said he expects to be redshirted as a freshman as he adapts to the college game. He also understands that some of the habits he developed at Ross – particularly on broken plays – won’t be as successful at the college level.
“I have to stay within the way I play, but I have to learn when enough is enough,” he said. “I can’t run around in the backfield like I did this year in college. Learning how to stay in the pocket, read defenses faster and get the ball out. All that will benefit me.”
If Lehmann can iron out the mental part of his game, Long is confident his physical tools can lead him to great success at Siena Heights.
“Pure talent with a very, very strong arm. We know that,” Long said. “It’s one of those things where, he understands the game. He understands what he needs to do, he just needs to get comfortable with the system he’s going to be going into and being able to trust and build the relationships with his receivers.”
Lehmann holds a 3.0 GPA and is currently considering majoring in psychology or sociology.
“I’m excited I get this opportunity because a lot of people don’t get this opportunity,” he said. “It’s always been a lifelong dream for me. Going to play college football isn’t something everybody gets to do, and I’m excited I get to do it.”