When Karina Hill, one of Cornell women’s basketball’s “top recruits,” stepped into Newman Arena on the first day of practice in the fall, she was ready right away to challenge Cornell’s players to games of 1-on-1.
“She came in and she wanted to go up and challenge our players 1-on-1 and her defense was phenomenal,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “We knew right away we needed to sign this young woman.”
Her tough defense, passing ability and basketball sense made her a great fit for the Cornell program.
What made this signing different from all other signings? The crowd of athletes, friends and the media, for one. Also that Karina is just seven years old.
Karina, who has cerebral palsy, was paired with Cornell by Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that matches children with “serious and chronic illnesses” and college sports teams.
After being introduced by Smith, Karina signed a “letter of intent” on Monday in the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame Room. She took her time to slowly write her name, making sure every letter was perfect. As she finished, her new team erupted in applause.
A bit camera shy at first, Karina quickly showed the toughness that has inspired the Cornell women’s basketball team. Her favorite part about basketball?
“Beating people,” the seven-year-old said.
WBKB: Karina Hill signed her official letter of intent today with @cornellwbball. Hill spent the 2018-19 season with the team, attending Big Red practices, games, team dinners and special events. #YellCornell #BeTheIMPACT Photo Gallery: https://t.co/oXTIstaDPh pic.twitter.com/QUJAk2Uh3r
— Cornell Big Red (@CornellSports) April 22, 2019
More important than her defensive prowess and love of the game, Karina “epitomizes what we want from a Cornell women’s basketball player,” according to Smith.
Always at practice and always wearing a smile, Karina works hard, loves the game, is feisty and is a great teammate. She’s disappointed when her teammates make mistakes and is the first one there for a high-five when her teammates succeed.
In the months following her first practice, Karina has become a part of the team: She’s at every game, joins the team for practice and participates in team bonding.
“She has a huge personality and she really, really loves the game of basketball,” said sophomore forward Elodie Furey, one of Karina’s best friends on the team. “She is so happy just to get in the gym and chase around while we dribble and [to] steal the ball from us. She’s always having a good time with a big smile on her face.”
The team has also spent time with Karina outside of basketball, visiting her at school and taking her out for Chinese food.
“You guys are all she talks about,” Karina’s mother, Chelsea, said to the team. “She said that you guys are her best friends, you’re like family.”
In that first practice back in the fall, Karina quickly showcased her love of the game, fearlessly taking on Cornell’s players and coaches.
“It’s been really nice for us to see someone who really loves basketball so much and it reminds us all why we started playing, and it’s rewarding for us, too, to have a positive impact on her life and we really enjoy spending time with her,” Furey said.
“Don’t let this little smile fool you, she’s tough as nails,” Smith said of her young recruit, before presenting Karina with a No. 23 Cornell jersey. “And probably the number one attribute that we love about her is that she’s a great teammate.”
Joined by her parents, Chelsea and Maurice — both wearing Cornell sweatshirts and Maurice with a red Cornell cap — and the Cornell women’s and men’s basketball teams and coaches, Karina’s signing marks a key point in her months of spending time with her new best friends.
“When we signed up to work with Team IMPACT it was us giving Karina an opportunity to be part of the team, but really we’ve taken so much more than we’ve given, I believe,” Smith said. “She has really captured their hearts.”