Respect is all a player on any team can ask for when they've given their best and the buzzer sounds to end the last game of a difficult season. Respect is all a team can hope for after an up and down season of tough practices, important games, personal drama's, to-close-for-comfort wins and devastating losses. Respect is all a team of disappointed players can search for when they scan the faces in the bleachers as they leave the court or field after an especially tough loss.
The Lady Knight varsity basketball team at Tyler Consolidated, need not worry. They've earned their respect.
The last local team still alive in the post-season when Regional play began, the Lady Knights traveled to Ravenswood on March 1 to take on the Lady Red Devils for the chance to compete in the state tournament. The 10 young ladies representing Tyler County had every plan and every hope of carrying off the win, but fate intervened, and had them returning home with the 56-55 loss instead.
The game was an important one, for more reasons than getting the team to the state tournament. It was dedicated to classmate Brock Yeater who is fighting leukemia, and to the father of two members of the team, who is fighting kidney cancer. Members of the team, as well as fans on both sides of the floor, donned orange and green ribbons in their honor. The game was important because this team had a point to prove, that they had come a long way and had no intention of backing down now. It was an important game because the Lady Knights had slowly, but surely, worked hard to build up a fan base and the majority of them were in attendance. They didn't want to let them down.
In front of the large hometown Ravenswood crowd and a large Consolidated contention, the Ladies in Black played four complete quarters of basketball, leaving none wondering if they were in it to win it.
"The girls gave everything they had," said head coach Matt Kinnard. "They played with heart and left everything on the floor. I can't even begin to describe how very proud coach Bobby West and I are of them. We asked them to give us their best and that's exactly what we got."
The two teams answered shot for shot from the get-go, with three pointers flying mostly uncontested from both sides of the court for the majority of the game. At the end of one, the two were tied, 12-12. By halftime, the Knights were well on their way to securing the win, leading by four, 33-29.
Then, with barely two minutes gone in the third, stalwart Knight sophomore shooter, Sydney Reed, caught an elbow to the face and went down.
With Reed now forced to the injured list, the Lady Knights had to change their game plan, and step up their offensive tactics.
Ravenswood took advantage of the situation and climbed their way slowly to come almost even with the Silver at the end of three, 44-43. The frenzied fourth quarter saw more action at the net than either team has faced all year, with the Red Devils barely edging out the Knights for the Regional win by a single point, 56-55.
"You know, we were down eight points at one point in the game, and we fought back," coach Kinnard said. "That's the kind of team this is."
"Yes, it hurt us when Sydney went out, of course it did, she's a starter, but other things hurt us as well. We missed some shots, we took a few chances we shouldn't have, we fouled at a couple of inopportune times, and Ravenswood played well. It's the game of basketball. It's what happens. It wasn't just one thing that cost us the game."
"It broke our hearts to lose, but I wouldn't have wanted to win or lose with a different group of girls. These girls did a tremendous job, and I know it's clich, but they're going to be better because of this loss."
Allison Wable led all Lady Knight scorers in the game with 17 points. She pulled down four rebounds, had one steal, and was credited with one assist. Sophie Kinnard added 15 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, had one block, four steals and two assists; Sydney Reed chipped in 13 points, had two rebounds, three steals, one assist; Torry Cline, 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists; Hillary Casteel, six rebounds, one block, two assists; and Kerstyn Cline had two rebounds and was credited with four assists.
"These 10 girls had something to prove this year," the coach said. "It's been such an up and down year for them, with so many things happening that could have easily distracted them. But they kept their focus. They have proven that they could play whether anybody else believed in them or not, whether anybody else wanted them to do well or not."
"They've overcome the obstacles that were set before them, and came out all the better for it. We played the hand we were dealt from the beginning, regardless of how it hindered us."
From a few filled seats by the faithful at the beginning of the season to a large boisterous crowd at the end, the Lady Knights stayed strong through it all.
Without a senior on the team, they pushed onward. With doubters discouraging them at every turn, they stayed the course. With personal issues threatening to tear them apart, they stayed together. They did not cave, they did not dismiss a challenge.
Next year, the team will still be considered "young", but with considerable experience. When the 2013 season begins, the team will be stronger, more focused, and more determined. With any luck, fans will remember a game in early March, where 10 girls sparked some life into the fan base of Tyler countians and played a basketball game worth remembering.
Yes, the Lady Knight varsity basketball team at Tyler Consolidated, need not worry.
They've earned their respect.