Middle Park seniors looks back at basketball career
The Frontier League Basketball Tournament kicked off this week in Grand County with the Middle Park High School boys taking on Jefferson at the high school Thursday evening. The action will continue at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Middle Park when the lady Panthers, who got a bye the first round of league play, take on the winner of a first round match-up between Sheridan and Jefferson.
Monday night was the last home game of the regular season for the Panthers and a watershed moment for the team’s seniors. As the men and women of Middle Park prepared for the final few games of this year, the seniors looked back on their time on the court.
There are five senior girls on the lady Panther squad this year and to say they are a tightly knit group is something of an understatement.
“We have been playing together since we were in elementary school,” said Claire Luque. Her favorite memory of her basketball years is the unique opportunity she and her friends were afforded to play together as a group.
Haley Weimer echoed that sense of connection and unity.
“I play basketball because I like the game,” she said. “But also because it is a team sport and it is like you have another family, a home away from home.”
The young ladies had many fond memories from their years of playing together including personal highlights, such as this year’s game against Bennett when Annalys Hanna scored 14 points in the second half or when Jene Hansen scored four three-point shots against Frontier Academy.
The girls explained they are drawn to play basketball for simple reasons: the fun inherent in the game, the intensity of completion, the sportsmanship factor. Linneya Gardner explained it succinctly, saying, “Basketball is fun and exciting. It is really nice to work so hard for something and see it pay off.”
Despite their positive attitudes, the lady Panthers have known heartbreak and loss on the court. Hanna explained that, for her, the worst aspect of basketball is losing a hard fought close game at the last minute. “Losing by two points in the last two seconds sucks,” she said before highlighting last year and this year’s matchups against Bennett, which were both decided by two-points down to the wire.
Hansen chuckled as she reminisced on a game the girls played at a C-Team tournament their freshman year.
“West Grand sent their varsity to the tournament and we get killed like 10 to 100 or something,” she said. “It was not good.”
When asked what they see as the most important attribute for success in competitive sports the ladies replied almost unanimously that confidence and determination are the keys factors.
There are 10 senior boys on the Panther’s basketball team this year. They are a rowdy, lighthearted bunch who weren’t shy about expressing their opinions.
“I guess I play basketball because there is nothing I would rather be doing,” said Jordan Ehlert. “It is the most fun thing I do besides fishing.”
Other players on the team including Colton Romero echoed his sentiments. “I play because it is fun,” Romero said.
The boys unanimously agreed going to the state basketball playoffs last year was the highlight of their high school careers.
“It was amazing knowing the whole school was behind us,” said Kaiden Cathey. “Getting a police escort was sweet.”
But all agreed that this year’s senior night, held during their last home game on Feb. 13, was a close second and an amazing experience in its own right. “Senior night the biggest crowd we have had all season,” Cathey added. “Our student body population was huge. Everyone was super supportive.”
The boys explained their favorite part of basketball is development of strategy required for success and described circumstances when both the team’s offensive and defensive plans worked in cohesion as great moments on the court. Some of the players highlighted the competitive comradery with opponents as a bright spot as well.
“Some of the most fun games were when we and the other teams were nice to each other,” said Mitch Gardner.
When asked what they liked least about basketball the boys didn’t hold back, joking about both their record this season and the intense conditioning drills they must undergo in practice. The Panther boys said their speed on the court is their greatest strength and all emphatically agreed their defense was the area most in need of improvement, especially as it relates to avoiding fouls.
The Panther boys agreed largely with the girls that effort and determination are the keys to success on the court. “It is about desire and passion,” said Ehlert. Cathey agreed, “You just have to give 100 percent.”
The senior boys for the Panthers are: Jordan Ehlert, Caleb Kissler, Mitch Gardner, Kaiden Cathey, Nojus Bilevicius, Stryker Heroux, Davis Lovato, Justas Reventas, Colton Romero and Natanats Tansawatdikul.
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Doctors told her there was a slim chance she’d ever be able to play sports again.