Last night's game against LBCC was the last home game for our three sophomores and I thought about that for hours leading up to the game. I thought about the first time I met each one of them, how much they have grown as basketball players and as people, and how they have impacted not only our team but me personally as well.
Denay Martin initially recruited us harder than we recruited her. At 5'3" Denay was an average high school basketball player but a possible D1 caliber softball player. She told me that she was better skilled at softball but she loved basketball and wanted to come play for us, even if it meant quitting softball so she could stay in the gym all spring and work on her game. Like a lot of people, I focused on Denay's height and underestimated the size of her heart, and for awhile I even tried persuading her not to come play for us and stick with softball. Fortunately for all of us, I wasn't very convincing! A few months later, Denay was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her doctor was forced to remove one of her ovaries. Her first day back in the gym, she stepped up and took a violent charge directly on top of her recent scar and we all cringed on the outside but couldn't help but smile on the inside. A little more than a year later, Denay tore her ACL, underwent another surgery, got another scar, put basketball on hold once again and rehabbed. Her scar still hurts everytime she takes a charge and her knee gets sore after tough, physical games and practices but she still goes hard every single day and is the best point guard in the region. Denay might only be 5'3" but when I look at her I see a giant!!
Marissa Towry played on a high school team that just got hammered night in and night out. I think you could count the number of wins she could celebrate over four years on one hand. But when we watched her play she was oblivious to the scoreboard. Regardless of the score and regardless of the mistakes or incompetancies of her teammates, Marissa just played hard and did her job. I was impressed with how much she must love to play the game because even though she had to know that her team was going to take a beating she competed every single possession. Wanting to expand her game, Marissa spent the offseason working on her range and shooting thousands of three pointers, a shot that her high school coach would not let her shoot. I wish her high school could've been there when Marissa hit five threes in our second game this season or when her three pointer sealed the win against LBCC last month. There's probably no one on our team who now appreciates and enjoys winning as much as Marissa does.
Samantha Russell I could write pages and pages about Sam - in fact, I already have - this is about the third draft because I want it to be exactly right. Sam came from a very, very, small high school and when she first started playing at UCC she was a little overmatched but we've had very few players over the years who have improved as much as she has. It certainly didn't happen overnight but Sam got into great shape and turned herself into a legitimate college basketball player. Then last February, Sam injured her knee during one of our games. But to make things worse, the injury was misdiagnosed as a dislocated knee cap at first, and it wasn't until early last summer that we all learned it was a torn ACL instead. Surgery would mean missing the season and so Sam has played all year on a torn ACL. It hurts her every single day but she never complains, talks about it, or feels sorry for herself. She plays and runs and battles as hard as she can each and every time she steps on the court even though she knows that she might not play much come game time. What I'm always going to remember about Sam is not the points she's scored or the rebounds she's grabbed. (Although it's going to be tough to forget the three pointer she attempted against Mt. Hood or the one that she made at PCC!) I'm going to remember playing "name that tune" in the team van, telling her action jokes, watching her face as she plays throught he pain, and getting her honest opinion about what is best for our team, even if it meant not playing in games as muchas (that's not a typo - Sam is proudly Hispanic) she wanted to. Sam would rather win than play and I can't think of a higher complimant that I could ever give to a player.
I love and appreciate each one of these sophomores and I'm glad we've been able to go through this journey together. I'm going to miss them a lot more than they realize.
Oh yeah, by the way - we won the game last night 100-88.