NEW RICHMOND — I still shake my head when I hear the whispers that the Wyoming East girls basketball teams of the last five years underachieved.
These people simply don’t know basketball. Or they don’t understand exactly how success is measured.
Or maybe I don’t.
These teams sent so many players on to play in college, two at Division I schools in two years, a great achievement in Class AA Region 3 basketball or any state Region really, and they had fun while doing it.
And they won 108 games in five years.
That’s success in my book.
Maybe a team should win every game, but seldom does it happen. These girls came in with such hype you understand it. And maybe this group would have won multiple titles and not just the one that came in 2016. What they actually had in multiples was injuries.
State player of the year Gabby Lupardus missed more than a season because of injuries.
Kara Sandy, now at Bluefield, missed well over a whole season-and-a-half with injury and illness.
Emily Saunders, Haley Butcher, Misa Quesenberry, the list goes on.
Four of those five are playing in college.
Skylar Davidson, this year’s lone returnee, missed all but seven games her freshman season.
Jazz Blankenship probably deserves a medal for playing in every game of her career. Never missed a game with the graduating class with the most wins (87-17). The next class with the most wins was that of Lupardus-Sandy (84-15).
Yes they played girls basketball at Wyoming East before Lupardus and Sandy strode on the scene in 2014. And with some decent results. They will play girls basketball now that Saunders, Blankenship, Brooke Russell and Katie Daniels have graduated.
What made these girls unique was the way they went about their business. Like singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” wandering through the Charleston Town Center after winning the 2016 season led by Lupardus. Or a Jackson Five number and dance led by Jazz Blankenship last year in the tunnel outside the locker room after a state tournament game last winter. No situation was too big for the Wyoming East girls.
Their modus operandi was the classic “Who me, worry?” Sometimes it drove coach Angie Boninsegna crazy. As she said during that championship season:
“They are a relaxed bunch of kids and that is how they function best! I had to meet them in the middle because I’m a little high strung.”
She did. And the results were laid out there. Despite the losses, two coming in the state title game (two in which Lupardus did not play, save an emotional appearance when she made two free throws after being inserted in the game with North Marion late with the outcome decided).
It was during Lupardus’s junior year when Boninsegna lost the star after one game for the year and had as many as four other players out with injuries (Sandy only played seven games, Misa Quesenberry missed six, Saunders and Butcher missed three each).
That team still won 18 games.
“People don’t understand the adversity they went through and they were kids and overall handled it well,” Boninsegna said. They seemingly ate the pressure they were fed. They knew they were supposed to win, but it never bothered them.
Maybe that is the legacy the team leaves. A minstrel-like group of singing, basketball-playing girls who didn’t let any situation they encountered get them down.
They overcame a multitude of injuries and kept on ticking. As the pressure to win rose, they kept on singing. And winning, 108 times over a 5-year span.
Four years out of five years they ended the season at the state tournament. Three times in the title game. Still many felt they underachieved.
Yet at the end of the day they won anyway. It’s a good lesson in high school sports. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You can well bet they wanted to win. But these girls didn’t sing the blues for long. Somewhere they all went solo, or joined a new band. The music will continue. At East as well. It will be different.
Over the summer practice session I asked Skylar Davidson what the major difference was with the seniors gone.
“Well, it’s a lot quieter,” she replied.
Indeed it was.