Last Tuesday was not how the four seniors of the Midlothian girls basketball team imagined their season would end. Sitting in fifth place in the District 16-4A race, the Lady Panthers were out of playoff contention, meaning the season would end after the game against Waco University.
So when the four seniors took the court, they took it with a purpose –to go out with a win on senior night. Poor University never knew what hit it.
“We wanted to kill the other team on our last win. We wanted to go out with a bang,” forward Trisha Dupree said.
The four seniors combined for 80 percent of the Lady Panther offense in the final game – a 72-40 win. It was the most points scored by the team this season and its most lopsided win as well.
After being shown video tributes, walking out on the court with their families and receiving ovations from the crowd, it was no surprise that the intrepid foursome saved their best day for last.
Natalie Ruud scored 20 to go along with 10 rebounds. Dupree added 19 and Samantha Jackson notched 13 to be the three leading scorers. Lauren Daniell had five and doled out a half dozen assists.
A single win made for a special moment but it was the season as a whole that the Lady Panthers want people to remember.
Following a season 2008-09 season with just four wins and a seventh place finish in the district, the 2009-10 season was a far cry from where the team was last season.
Armed with new coach Brooke Walthall, the Midlothian program got jolted back into life and, more importantly, into contention. The four seniors were a major part of that.
“We want to start a good program here and coach Walthall’s doing a good job and we wanted to start it out right and just do better than we have,” Ruud said. “I know for my senior year I’ve seen seniors go out with a bad season and I didn’t want to do that and I don’t think anybody else does.”
In a season filled with ups and downs, the Lady Panthers finished with a 13-19 overall record while going 6-8 in district play. Considering the 4-27 overall and 2-12 district mark the team accumulated last season, the improvement was easy to see. Up until the last few weeks of the season, the team was in the thick of playoff contention and with a few bounces of the ball could have claimed the fourth place.
While the team fell short of reaching its playoff goal, no one on the roster was ashamed or down about the season they had produced and rightfully so. The nine-game improvement was the biggest upswing in the district.
“It feels amazing to be able to go out saying that we went in there and gave it our all and left it all on the floor,” Daniell said. “Even though we didn’t go off to playoffs this year I think I can speak for all of us seniors when I say we feel like we did go in there and kind of reset this program up and I think a lot of people that watched it can see this is a different team than it has been the past few years.”
Each of the four seniors knows in the short-term, their wins and losses might not be remembered like a championship type year. But if the Lady Panther program’s turnabout keeps going the way it has, their efforts on the court might be the moment when things started to come around.
But for one final night, the four seniors got to walk off the court as winners. And there is no forgetting that.
“I think that they were excited to play. They worked hard and they’ve been here for four years and they’ve been working hard this whole time and I’m glad that they got to go out with a bang because they needed it,” Walthall said of her team. “I think that is very special (to go out on a win). I hope they are always able to realize that and I think they will.”
Judging from the players’ reactions to what transpired, the moment was not lost and it won’t be for a very long time.
“We want to end on a high note and we want to start on a high note when the season starts next year for younger class,” Jackson said. “(We say to the younger players) good luck and keep going. Don’t give up. We had ups and downs on the team as a whole with wins and losses. But we pushed through. This win was awesome. It feels great.”