The 59 year drought is over. The Luther Lady Lions stepped on to the court of the OSSAA State 2A basketball tournament Thursday afternoon in the state quarterfinals. This game was a goal chased with passion all season long, through the long hours at practice, and 19 season wins. Most of their nine losses were to teams ranked higher or classed higher, matches scheduled to make them stronger.
That strength showed up on the court at Yukon High School even as the point spread widened throughout the fast-paced game against the Howe Lions. The team from the southeast part of the state is ranked number two and Howe’s guard Jalei Oglesby scored a near state tournament single game record 42 points the first three quarters of the game.
The stands were full of Luther fans. The students and teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews and siblings, the neighbors, friends and the diehard fans all drove across the county to the gym in Yukon to cheer on the team. It was Luther’s own Loud City.
Earlier in the day, the girls high-fived their way through the elementary and middle schools. When they boarded the bus, the Luther Fire engine and the Luther Police Department led the Team Bus through streets of Luther with a full police escort, including down Main Street where Opus Entertainment blared “We Are The Champions” in front of his upcoming storefront, Shorty’s Prideland. Sending the team to state was a big deal.
At 3:30 pm, the Lady Lions stepped on to the biggest basketball stage of their lives. A big stage, with all of the pressure, jitters and desire and where all of the long hours of drills, shooting and running would be showcased. While the Lions fought hard – the shots did not fall, and the calls did not always go their way. Luther’s only points during the first quarter were three free throws. Howe’s Lions scored 21 points.
The Luther Lions got within ten points briefly in the second quarter, but each point gain would quickly be answered with another bucket from the opponent. And so it went through the first half, and the second.
Scorers for the game were Caitlin Bailey, 18; Raychel Stanfield, 13; Lauren Coates, 7 and Shawntae Silva, 3. Bailie Wilds, Kennedy Cox and Savannah Nunley were key players on both ends of the court. Freshman Audrey Harper got minutes, while Lindsay Kuhlman, injured earlier this week and on crutches, offered motivation.
Final score: Luther 41, Howe 79.
For the seniors, Bailey and Coates, the big game signaled the end of their high school basketball careers. They’ll move on to post secondary life after graduation in May. Maybe on the court. But in the short term, they’ll trade in their basketball uniforms for their track gear. Their final track season is beginning.
It was a poignant moment when the players who wore numbers 24 and 34 stepped off the court in the fourth quarter and met their coach on the sidelines. There were brief hugs and tears. Tears over the frustration of the game no doubt, and tears that it was the end.
For Coach Johnny Vick, he is certain it won’t be another 59 years to the next state appearance. After all, when Assistant Coach Carrie Schwarz went to state in 1979 at Okarche, it was the first time her team had been to state in 50 years. That year began a basketball dynasty with 28 state appearances since then.
Vick talked to newsok.com this week about his upcoming kidney transplant, with a kidney donated by his wife, Patricia. She is an abiding Lions fan, always on the sidelines, always supporting coach and his team. Through the health challenges, Vick saw this season through.
“Thank you for all the prayers, each one means a lot. Thank you to my girls for putting up with me. I know I am tough but I see potential in each one of them. Glad they got to experience the State Tournament. Great season and I am proud to be a Lion,” said Coach Vick.
All of Luther experienced the State Tournament, for the girls, for the first team in 59 years (and experienced it for the boys last year). We could get used to this: How about same time next year?
Thanks team. It was a great day to be a LUTHER Lion.