She had yet to start middle school.
Sanabria, then the coach for the Immaculate Heart CYO basketball team, looked in awe at the fourth-grader who stood about 5 feet, 4 inches – nearly as tall as he.
“I asked her if she played basketball,” Sanabria said. “She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You do now.’”
Though it took time for Costa to grow into her body, she excelled at both basketball and volleyball. She was already roughly 6-2 as a freshman at Liberty High. By the time she graduated in 2010, Costa owned Bay Valley Athletic League Most Valuable Player awards for both sports.
While basketball history is littered with stories of players who relied on their height and nothing else, Costa’s game doesn’t rest on a single measuring stick. Liberty head coach Debbi Weil watched as the center put in gobs of sweat equity to improve her shooting touch as well as her maneuverability on the court. For her efforts, the 6-4 Costa became one of the few Liberty girls’ basketball players to make the jump to Division I when she inked a scholarship to play for UCLA.
Though she played mainly off the bench in her freshman year, Costa has become a fixture for the Bruins in her sophomore season as a center/forward. After injuries decimated the roster – the team has only three healthy reserves – she stepped up to become UCLA’s force in the paint.
“This year, I’ve just grasped the opportunity, with two of our best players going out with season-ending injuries,” Costa said. “It feels good that I can come in and do my part.”
Costa ranks third in the Pac-12 Conference in blocked shots per game and for one stretch this season swatted away scoring attempts in 14 consecutive games.
Bruins head coach Cori Close admired the hard work Costa has put in since joining the starting lineup. She feels Costa has improved greatly from her first game and has the talent and the drive to do big things for the Bruins.
“Corinne has grown in her level of commitment to the game, her passion, her confidence, her ability to change plays, her willingness to be in the gym extra,” Close said. “I really have challenged and even butted heads with her a couple times. I think that her response and her willingness to change and grow – it really is a joy to watch.”
Though Costa now spends most of her time in Los Angeles, she still has an excellent support system. Last week, when UCLA squared off with Cal in Berkeley, a group of roughly 20 relatives and friends came by to cheer her on. Costa’s mother, Rhonda, said she and her husband John usually make a trip down south about once a month to see her at the John Wooden Center.
Last year, when UCLA traveled to Moraga to play St. Mary’s, Sanabria estimated that about 100 people made the visit from East County. Many of them wore customized T-shirts in white or Bruin blue emblazoned with Costa’s name and number – 34.
“It’s good for her and I’m proud of her,” said her sister Kylie, a junior at Liberty. “She’s worked really hard to get to where she is.”
While Costa hones her craft in Westwood, her effects are still felt in Brentwood.
As a Liberty senior, Costa took a tall sophomore named Bernadette Fong under her wing. Weil called them the “Twin Towers.” In her first season as the team’s starting center, Fong excelled, earning first-team all-league honors.
Now a senior, the 6-3 Fong averages 11.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. Weil said colleges are talking to Fong with the enthusiasm they showed for Costa.
Fong, as well as other seniors on Liberty’s roster, can look to Costa to see what’s possible.
“It was very fun to watch her come into her own,” Weil said, “but I still think that she’s growing.”