Girls basketball team rises up

After winning the state championship last season, the girls basketball team looks to return to the state game this year

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Allana Preston, Staff Member

Music pounding in the fans’ ears. The sound of tennis shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor of the basketball court in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Everyone is anticipating what will happen next. Jayla Smith gains possession of the basketball, runs towards Northwestern’s net, landing on the 3 point line, defends herself with the ball and throws it up and into the defending team’s nets and changes the score from 37-38 to 37-41, Wildcats in the lead.
Ever since the defeat of Northwestern in the state championship in early 2020, the LN girls basketball team has been practicing and training to get back to the place that they were in last season. Filling in the shoes of the five seniors who graduated hasn’t been easy, but Smith has risen to the occasion.
Head coach Chris Giffin, the recognises how valuable Smith is to the team and how she impacts it emotionally and physically.
“She’s extremely talented and that’s very helpful for this year. She brings a lot of energy and positivity to the court and it really gets the team going. Jayla has been a 4-year varsity player, a 3-year varsity starter, and will wind up being the most prolific player in LNGB history, so her impact on the team is huge. She brings an experience factor and competitive spirit that is unparalleled by anyone in the state, so that certainly positively affects the rest of the girls. Fortunately, during her career we haven’t dealt with any serious injuries or had many moments where we have had to play without her, but I know that effect would be monumental,” Giffin said.
This year three girls have taken leadership positions on the girls basketball team to get them back to the position that they were in last year: Ariel Helm, Monica Williams, and Jayla Smith. Positive energy is a big part of playing on this team and making sure the team is hyped up.
“Being more vocal, directing my teammates on where they need to be on the court, and just clapping them up and making their confidence level go up, just telling them what they are doing good You don’t want to put them down and make them feel bad,” Smith said.
COVID-19 isn’t going to stop the team from keeping the title as the defending champions. Practices are still going on despite the pandemic and the team is working on the energy that they display on the court. Now it’s just a matter of being a team and winning like one.
“I think we all need to play off of each other, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and play our roles on the team,” junior Ariel Helm said.
Due to COVID-19, only a certain number of people are allowed to come and watch the team play. The energy will be different, but the team is still playing for themselves and still making the best with what they have.
“I don’t think that it [not having a big crowd] will affect how we play cause we are still going to play on the court, just how we’ve played and try to win,” Smith said.
Last season, the girls basketball team won the state championship and achieved what they were working on for so long. In past years, the girls had made it to finals but were continuously runner-up, and in early 2020 they were able to become the champions. With COVID-19, getting back to where they were will take commitment and patience.
“Since we ended the season with four losses, coming back and winning state it felt good,” sophomore Monica Williams said.
When confidence levels go up on the court, so does the way the team plays. Staying positive and playing well is a big boost towards the goals that they have set. While other teams in the state currently aren’t playing because of COVID-19, the LN girls basketball team is still going strong and taking the precautions that they need to, so that they are still able to play.
“It’s [practice protocols for COVID-19] is just very consistent with what the athletic department, the township, and the health department have laid out for all sports. So at the beginning of every workout and practice we talk to each girl about if they are experiencing any symptoms with covid, and we obviously take a very strict attendance, and we’ve only had one incident where a girl was experiencing some symptoms, so we go through that process daily, but luckily for us we don’t have to go through that very often,” Giffin said.
The environment might be the same but making new relationships can be hard, especially in times like this where seeing someone isn’t the same when you are bound by masks. Having the same goal helps and of course the goal is to get back to the state championship this year and keep the title of defending champions. Staying motivated is key and making sure that the team is encouraged and confident.
“My expectations have never changed for our teams here, to be as competitive as we can be on a daily basis, win as many games as possible by progressively getting better each and every practice and game, and strive to win our County Championship, our Conference(MIC) Championship, and win a Sectional and advance as far as we can in the State Tournament,” Giffin said.
The girls on the team are working hard and playing to the best of their abilities. Getting back to the state championship is the long term goal. Motivation, practice, and patience is what is going to get the team to where they want to be.
“What motivates me is winning of course. Winning state really helps me by wanting to win another championship, and just getting up and playing. I’ve been playing since I was younger, and since I’m committed, I still want to keep working hard day by day,” Smith said.