Risa Darlington-Horta

Senior Alicia Scott helped her team win by drawing the offensive foul that gave her team what ended up being the game-winning possession. She also set up the game-winner by attracting the defense to the corner and away from clutch shooter, Natalie Suri. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

Some victories are sweeter than others

Girls varsity basketball team ends the first half of district season with a comeback win they will never forget

Risa Darlington-Horta
Alicia Scott and the Knights soared to new heights because they stuck together, played with enthusiasm and made a high percentage of their free throws. Photo by Risa Darlingon-Horta.

With less than 30 seconds remaining in a close game that the girls varsity basketball team felt it simply had to win, junior guard Abby Robison sat on the bench. She had been relegated there after getting her fourth foul about a minute earlier.

Thanks to a Makayla Mason’s free throw just seconds earlier, the score was tied. Mac 31 Navarro 31. 

Like all of her teammates, Robison felt like they … simply … must … win … this game.

Through the first half of the district season, the girls varsity basketball team had suffered through a lot of adversity — on the court and off it. Not only were they winless in district play, but they also had to take their team banner down after a controversy that escalated all the way to the superintendent’s office. Their roster, both varsity and JV, had shrunk for a variety of off-court reasons.

“I think we were starting to lose faith,” Robison said, “but instead of giving up and falling under pressure … we really came together, and we came out [Friday night] determined to win.”

Early on, the determination was there, but the results weren’t.

Risa Darlington-Horta
Things weren’t looking that great for Fayth Schumann and the Knights early in Friday nights’s game. The team trailed by five at the half and was still behind entering the fourth quarter, but Schumann and her teammates’ refusal to give up paid huge dividends in the final quarter. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

It looked early in the game that the Knights were destined to let their another opportunity slip away. At halftime, they trailed by five. Entering the fourth quarter, they had moved closer to the Vikings, but they still trailed. 

With one quarter left to play, the Knights regrouped for one last run at a win that would end the first half of the district season on a positive note.

I was having trouble staying in my seat and keeping my cool.

— junior guard Abby Robison

While she had been on the court, Robison had done much to help her team have a chance to win. She scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds, made two steals, deflected two passes and even blocked a shot. 

Seated next to teammates Ruby Del Valle and Abby Soto on the bench, all Robison could do now was exert energy and cheer for her teammates in the hopes that they could feed off of her enthusiasm.

“I think we were more nervous than the players on the court,” Robison said of the players on the bench. “I was having trouble staying in my seat and keeping my cool. I was screaming my head off for the last few minutes.”

On the court in the last minute of play, the Vikings committed an offensive foul for pushing point guard Alicia Scott. Drawing the foul was an effort play by Scott, one that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but the hustle play gave the Knights the ball back, and it stopped the clock, which gave the Knights a chance to call a timeout to discuss what to do with the next 20 seconds and the chance to change the subject of a heretofore frustrating season.

Our main focus was not to let them score in the last few seconds.

— junior forward Natalie Suri

The plan was simple: hold the ball and run clock unless you get a really good look at the basket.

Shooting guard Fayth Schumann said that Coach Campbell told them not to rush into a shot but to get a good one if possible.

“There was no set play,” forward Natalie Suri said. “Our main focus was not to let them score in the last few seconds because it was a tie game.”

Suri inbounded the ball to Scott just inside the timeline and then made a right turn to the top of the key. Scott meanwhile dribbled along the sideline in front of the Knight bench in the path to which Coach Campbell pointed. If Campbell had been chewing gum, Scott would have been able to determine its flavor. They were that close to each other as the clock wound down.

Scott dribbled in the direction of Schumann who was about two feet shy of the corner where the sideline meets the baseline. 

“I’m pretty sure [Coach] wanted Alicia to draw the defenders to one side by driving and passing to Fayth to make Natalie open at the key so she could bust out a shot,” Robison said.

Risa Darlington-Horta
Makayla Mason made a critical free throw in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 31. It was the teams 19th made free throw of the game. The Knights’ accuracy at the charity strip proved essential to their victory. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

It was a good plan. The defense was likely to (a) follow the ball and (b) keep an eye on Schumann, who was the only Knight scorer in double digits with 12. At that point in the game, Schumann did not yet have an assist.

Just like Coach Campbell wanted, Scott threw a short pass to Schumann who met the ball and found Suri open in her sweet spot to shoot: just inside the top of the key.

[There was the] the possibility of her getting stuck in the lane and trapped by the other team.

— sophomore guard Fayth Schumann

Schumann knew that Suri had the ability to catch and shoot quickly, and she hoped she would do exactly that.

Schumann told MacJournalism that she felt confident that Suri would make the shot if she took it, but that she was afraid Suri might try to run down the clock by driving to the basket instead.

“[There was the] the possibility of her getting stuck in the lane and trapped by the other team,” Schumann explained.

That concern, however, did not cause Schumann to hesitate. Without even moving from where she  received the ball from Scott, Schumann lofted a perfect pass to Suri over three Viking defenders. Suri caught the ball just beyond the free-throw line in perfect triple-threat position.

She could dribble. She could pass. She could shoot. But what would she do?

“When I got the ball from Fayth and saw that there was no defender in front of me, I shot it,” Suri said. 

Was she worried that she was shooting too soon?

If I had waited to shoot it would have been too late.

— Natalie Suri

“In retrospect, what I did was a little risky because if I missed and they got a long rebound it would have been bad,” Suri said. “But, if I had waited to shoot it would have been too late because the defense would have been on me.”

Schumann did not lift her feet to make the pass to Suri, and Suri did not lift her feet to take the shot, which she released about 17 feet from the basket. 

The shot soared gracefully through the air and hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. Schumann had her first assist of the game, and McCallum had the lead, 33-31.

The Vikings, however, still had the chance to inbound the ball and enough time to tie the game with a two or win it with a three. 

Risa Darlington-Horta
Schumann led all Knight scorers with 12 points, but it was her single assist in the game that proved the most essential to the game’s outcome. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

“[I] did put the pressure on [Navarro] because they now needed to make a shot to tie the game, and we just needed to stop them,” Suri said. “Stopping someone from making a shot in such a high pressure situation with like 20 seconds left is easier than making a shot.”

Without calling timeout, the Vikings inbounded the ball with the intent to do just that.

A Navarro player drove the length of the court to about the same distance from the net that Suri had just been when made her shot.

But while Suri found no defenders in that space to contest her throw, the Viking would-be scorer found three: Mason, Scott and Suri. In the face of a triple team, the Viking lost control of the ball, and Suri scooped it up with nothing to do but wait for the clock to expire.

McCallum had won, 33-31. 

We really focused on something that we needed to get better at, and we worked to fix it.

— Abby Robison on the team's efficient free-throw shooting

The first half of the district season ended on a euphorically positive note.

How had they done it? 

The stat sheet tells one part of the story. The Knights had won a game where they made only eight field goals.

Nineteen of the team’s 33 points came at the free-throw line.

Mason made one last critical free throw to tie the game, but before that Schumann and Robison had been easy money. Each guard made seven free throws. Schumann was seven of nine; Robison, seven of 10.

Why were they able shoot such a high free-throw percentage?

“We’ve really been practicing our free throws recently,” Robison said. “So I think that’s really helped.”

Risa Darlington-Horta
Robison killed the Vikings at the free-throw line where she made seven of 10 attempts. Her teammate Schumann made seven of nine. Even on the bench, Robison made an impact on the game. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

Robison said she shoots 25 free-throws per practice and that Coach Campbell makes free-throw shooting a vital part of the team’s conditioning. A made free throw reduces the team’s conditioning run by one lap. A missed free-throw means that everybody runs. So the running reward or penalty makes you learn to concentrate on making free throws under pressure.

Robison also credited a December team fundraiser for making her a better foul shooter.

“We shot 100 free throws and got donations for every free throw we made,” Robison said. “Each person took pledges from people. My grandpa donated 10 cents for every free throw I made out of 100. At the end we collected the money and we are gonna use it for team bonding.”

We would act like every point or stop was a game-winning point or stop, which I believe is why we won.

— Fayth Schumann

In other words, the team was better at the charity stripe because of the charity of donors to the girls basketball program.

The extra practice shooting free throws gave Robison and Shumann confidence that if they could draw fouls they would score. And the Viking obliged.

“I knew they were fouling a lot so every time I would get the ball under the basket I would go up and get fouled,” Robison said. “The bench and JV would cheer every time we went to the line so that helped. We really focused on something that we needed to get better at, and we worked to fix it, and we did. It showed in the game.”

Robison mentioned the bench support as critical to her made free throws. Suri said the same of her game-winning shot.

“The energy my team brought on the bench helped me and my teammates on the court play our best game at the end of the close game.”

So Robison, sitting on the bench for the final minute of the game, was perhaps even more essential to her team than she had been while making all of those free throws because her intense energy fueled her teammates on the floor. 

Risa Darlington-Horta
According to Robison, sophomore Kashawna Henry was pivotal to both Knight victories on Friday night: first, she helped the JV win by volunteering to play so they would have five players. Then she stayed on the bench and cheered and coached her varsity teammates to a huge win. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

“One of our main goals for the game was to stay hype in the bench, which I think really contributed to the game,” Robison said.

Robison’s teammate Kashawna Henry was also sitting on the bench during the varsity game, but not because of foul trouble. She was there because she volunteered to suit up for the JV game instead of the varsity because the JV only had four players and needed a fifth just so they could field a team. Henry played and the JV also beat Navarro on Friday night.

Robison said that Henry played a pivotal role in both McCallum victories on Friday. 

“That was really big of her, and she still helped coach and cheer from the bench during our game,” Robison said. “She’s an essential part of our team.”

I always want to win, but doing it with this group of girls made it even better.

— Natalie Suri

You get the idea talking to these Knights that they may in fact be the closest team there is at Mac. Any team can stick together when winning and success comes easily, but what if it doesn’t? 

What do you do then?

These Knights answered that question on Friday. 

“The reason we had a good chance at that game was because of the energy we brought,” Shuman said. “We would act like every point or stop was a game-winning point or stop, which I believe is why we won.”

And how did it the victory feel?

“I was so happy,” Suri said. “We needed this win! I felt like this game was the first game where we really came together and fought as a team. It always feels great to win, especially when you are trying to find your way out of a losing streak. I honestly can’t describe how happy I was.” 

Robison tried to put her feeling about the victory into words.

“Instead of giving up and falling under pressure that last quarter we really came together and pulled off a win that we all needed. We ended the first half of our season with a win, I know it may seem small, but it really means a lot and shows that our work paid off.”

It is no small accomplishment when a team overcomes adversity and sticks by one another when everything seemed to be against them.

“I always want to win,” Suri said, “but doing it with this group of girls made it even better.”

Just how good it felt was clear by what happened after the final buzzer sounded. DCG could not contain the euphoria of a team that could finally celebrate. 

The team took to social media to break the news of their success.

“We all got to finally post about our win, and we’ve just been texting and just being proud,” Robison said. “I personally have been telling everyone I know about it.”

The first audience for the news was anyone who happened to be in the vicinity of Sunshine Drive on Friday night after the varsity teammates dashed to the parking lot between the gym and the theaters and chanted in a call and response.

“Mac Knights,” half of them would chant.

“You know,” the other half responded.

After a clutch game-winning shot and recovering a loose ball at the buzzer, things are definitely looking up for Suri and the Knights. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

They did know too. What it felt like to win, to persevere and finally to celebrate.

After that cheer ran its course. They chanted another.

“OK. Limitless on three.”

“1 …. 2 … 3 … Limitless.”

The possibilities for the second half are just that. 

Schumann said she hopes to improve her defense by getting more steals per game and on offense by increasing her average assists per game.

We ended the first half of our season with a win, I know it may seem small, but it really means a lot.

— Abby Robison

Those are the goals of a player who is looking for ways to help her team win.

Suri said that’s the plan for the second half.

“Everyone played a role in helping us win and I look forward to more wins in the future.”

The victory party was nice, Suri said. But now it’s time to get back to work.

“We celebrated [the win] for a while. At the end we were all screaming with happiness, but now we are preparing to continue winning and playing our best in the second half of district.”

The team’s future does look much brighter after Friday night, but no matter what happens the rest of the way, this team will always have the memory of the first and sweetest district win of the season.

Risa Darlington-Horta
Mason, Robison, Del Valle and the girls varsity basketball team might just be the closest team on the Mac campus because of what they’ve endured and because of how much Friday’s win meant to them as a team. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

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