By Ray Hamill — Eureka senior Bella Vigil is getting ready to be a Roadrunner, and so much more.
This week, Vigil officially signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Butte College after graduation, and in doing so she becomes a rarity among Native Americans.
According to statistics from the Indian Teacher and Educational Personnel Program (ITTEP), last year 62,500 female American Indians were enrolled in college and only one percent of them played college sports.
Vigil, who is a member of the Paiute tribe and just the second-ever female from the Susanville Indian Rancheria to go on to play basketball collegiately, is doing her part to improve on those statistics.
And that doesn’t come as a surprise to her high school coach, Michael Harvey.
“Bella has developed into the leader on our team through a great work ethic, positive attitude with all the coaches and teammates, and excellent skill development,” Harvey said.
For Vigil, who is a four-sport athlete for the Loggers, Butte was the perfect choice, even if it was an unexpected one.
After being accepted at three different D-III programs, including two in Oregon, the senior standout found Butte at just the right time.
“I had a big decision to make,” she said. “I went up to Oregon and visited the campuses, and met the coaches and the teams, and it was a good experience, but it just wasn’t all that I expected it to be.
“And so on my way home from that trip, the Butte coach called me, and every word he said intrigued me, and I really wanted to be a part of that.
“The coaching staff really wanted me, not only as a basketball player, but as a person. And I really liked that. It reminded me of playing at Eureka.”
Butte head coach Tyler Newton didn’t get the opportunity to scout Vigil in person because of the pandemic, but he saw more than enough on film to want to bring her on board.
“She’s a competitor,” he said. “She loves to compete, and she’s tough.”
Vigil has made a reputation in recent years of being one of the most tenacious players in the Big 5, especially at the defensive end.
And she is expected to carry that over into a shortened senior spring season, which is scheduled to get under way in late May.
“Bella is primed to blossom this spring for us,” Harvey said. “Butte College is very fortunate to get this talented young lady who is going to be a star at the next level.”
With her style of play and attitude on the court, Vigil should also fit right in with the Roadrunners.
“We like to play fast and press and shoot a lot of 3’s,” Newton said. “And that’s something that will suit her skill set”
As for her role with the team, nothing is guaranteed, but Vigil is more than okay with that and willing to put in the work to get to where she wants to be.
“I know that I’m just going to go there and work hard every day at practice to get a playing spot,” she said. “And obviously I know I’m going to have to work for that spot.”
Vigil has never backed down from hard work and has spent much of the past year improving on her game under the direction of local coach Gordie Hunt, along with teammate Claire Maples.
“We’ve been working out and we’ve grown to have a really good connection, Claire and I,” Vigil said, adding that working with Hunt has given her “so much motivation.”
Vigil has also played three years of volleyball at Eureka High, as well as competing in track and field and more recently in cross country, which was a whole new experience for the multi-talented athlete, but an enjoyable one.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “It was fun getting to know new teammates.
“It’s a lot different to basketball,” she added with a smile. “I actually learned to like running, and it made me work harder.”
She admits, however, that basketball has always been her favorite sport.
“It’s challenging and there’s always something to get better at,” Vigil said of the sport. “I like that challenge. There’s always something I’m trying to improve on. It’s my happy place.”
The senior says her coaches have played a big part in helping her get to where she is, including Hunt, Harvey and her former JV coach at Eureka, Mickie Tuaila.
“All of my coaches at Eureka High have really pushed me to be my best and I’ve grown a lot in skill and mindset because of that,” she said. “And I’m appreciative to them for their hard work. And my teammates have really encouraged me. And my family has always been at every game and always supported me.”
Vigil is hoping to close out her high school career with one final winning season.
“I’m hoping that if we get a Niclai championship, hopefully we can come back and win that again,” she said. “And I’m hoping I can be as good a leader as our seniors were last year.”
It appears as if she already is.