In Victory, In Defeat: Lady Longhorn Always

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the Lady Longhorn basketball squads went up against the Bay City Blackcats in the final game of the season, Varsity with a strong win of 57-50.

The win was a bittersweet one.Even though wins aren’t supposed to be sad.

It was a cleanly-swept evening, too. Both JV and Varsity came up with wins against the Bay City Blackcats, Varsity winning 57-50.

But it was the final game of the 2013-2014 season.

The last game with the program’s three seniors: guards Ashley Ng and Olivia West, and myself, Katelyn Keeling.

Even though the Varsity squad had been only one win away from their first playoff appearance, they’ve come a long way from the program’s freshman/JV beginnings back in 2010, where all three of us became dedicated to the game and the team.

With the final Bay City victory, their overall record became 11-15 — a drastic improvement from last year’s first season of Varsity play with only five wins.

In all four of the seasons I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, we ended every away game by singing the fight song. Win or lose. Demolished and bruised or victorious and still bruised.

Our coach, Shalesha Pierce, instilled in us the principle of family. Of togetherness. Of cohesiveness.

Every drill we went through, every timed down-and-back sprint, every punishment practice, every off-season lap around the track, every session slinging weights in the field house, every set of 100 jumps with the weighted jump ropes was for a purpose.  A purpose beyond the obvious idea of improvement. Of strength. Of a successful basketball team. You can have all the strength and talent on a team that you want, but if you don’t have a cohesive team, you don’t really have a team at all.

From season one, we were cohesive.

We were a family.

They’re still my family.

They’ve stuck with me and helped me get through high school, both consciously and unconsciously. They were there as  I battled depression and sadness throughout my freshman and sophomore years.

The friends I had outside of basketball drifted. By junior year, I felt more alone and isolated — except in basketball. On the court, I was myself. At home. It was easy to put the storms in my head aside and focus on getting the ball down the court, focus on my team, focus on the adrenaline that coursed through my blood. Putting the ball in the hoop, posting up on my girl gave my muscles purpose. Gave me a purpose.

I suppose we all have to grow up at some point, but mine happened a week before our first game of last season. My body was already exhausted from the stress of trying to balance working at the local Barnes & Noble, my AP course load and energy-demanding basketball practices. I tried to give 110% percent of myself to everything I was involved in, but I felt like I was drowning.

It seemed to never end. My body was weary and sleep-deprived and the season hadn’t really been kicked into high-gear yet.

After a weekend of consulting with my parents and coaches, I decided that I would remain in the program, but would trade my number 15 jersey for a stat sheet.

It removed the physically taxing load from my life. I wasn’t anxious anymore. I slept better. I felt lighter. I had time to take care of my schoolwork. Becoming a manager was the best decision for me. I could have stayed and pushed myself, but I would have been miserable and my grades would have suffered. Of course, I regret it now. I miss playing, I miss the cohesiveness. I’m still part of the program. The team. But it’s different. I’m reminded that time has passed — that my time has passed — when freshmen players tap my shoulder to shyly ask about the basketball patch on the shoulder of my letterman jacket.

“Um,” she said nervously, avoiding my eyes. She and her teammate had clearly talked about it before approaching me; they exchanged a low glance. Her friend encouraged her words forward. “Did you use to play basketball?”

At first, it took me a second to remember that the days of not having to explain my presence are over. It took me a second to realize that my depression, my sadness, my lack of stamina to push through a third season led me to settling for Varsity manager instead of Varsity player.

“Yes,” I said. “I used to play.”

I have to remind myself that stepping back from the court was the right thing to do, even though my very bones long to be out there, putting in work. I have to remember that what I do now is still important.

Sometimes, I reject the idea that what I do matters. But there are always those quiet reminders — the ones that kept me afloat freshman and sophomore year.

Coach Pierce would say something incredibly funny or #11 freshman Julia Schwake would sink a three effortlessly, putting us ahead by a point. Or #1 sophomore Enaya White would tell me she liked my shoes. Or#2 #00 sophomores Kendall Bess and Rita Okoye would shoot me a smile as I passed them in the hallways. Or #50 junior Alexis Elder would tell me to have a good day as we left the locker room after third period practice.

They’re my family. I win with them. I lose with them.

That last win against Bay City was tireless. It was a display of the improvement, of the cohesiveness.

I was folding up the tripod and putting the camera back into the manager bag when Enaya threw her arms around me, fresh off the court. I tried to convince myself that there would be more games. More film. More celebratory busrides. More tournaments.

Enaya reminded me that there wouldn’t be anymore.

This was it.

This was all of it.

“Thanks for being the best manager ever,” she said.

“I haven’t left yet,” I said. “It’s not over yet. We still have time.”

I think I tried to tell myself that more than I was replying to her compliment. I didn’t really know what to say. But when she headed back down the bleachers to put her sweats on, my lungs were flooded with the absolute finiteness of it.

My four years of high school basketball are over. Done.

I stood at the top of the bleachers, watching my weary girls shrug into their personalized shooting shirts and tear off their ankle braces. For a quiet moment, I tried to remember it as it was. To take it in, sweaty glory and all.

It was a victory –a victory of a game. A team. A family. A season. Of a high school career for myself and my two senior ladies — who notably put in work on the hardwood (as per usual).

What I’ve had to remind myself is that while this is the end of my high school basketball days, it isn’t the end of my days as a Lady Longhorn.

Those are innumerable. Those are infinite.

I will always be a Lady Longhorn and I will always bleed maroon. Even after my name is long forgotten, I will still be a Lady Longhorn fan.

I will always be.

It’s who I am.

I’m a part of this family, and that’s what I’ll always be, carrying this passion until my days do not exist and my lungs do not give me a breath to breathe.

In victory. In defeat.

Lady Longhorn always.