Stepping up as leaders

Drawing on past experiences for guidance, girls basketball senior trio works to build community among new players

On+Senior+Night+for+the+girls+basketball+team+on+Jan.+23%2C+Abby+Soto%2C+Emilia+Morgan%2C+Abby+Robison+and+Makayla+Mason+were+recognized+before%2C+during+and+after+the+Knights%27+42-18+victory+over+Navarro.+

Dave Winter

On Senior Night for the girls basketball team on Jan. 23, Abby Soto, Emilia Morgan, Abby Robison and Makayla Mason were recognized before, during and after the Knights’ 42-18 victory over Navarro.

Alice Scott

Alice Scott, staff reporter

Three freshmen girls are in the middle of their first-ever tryout at McCallum.

And it’s tough.

Their focus – making the team, not making friends.

But four years later, varsity basketball captains Makayla Mason and Abby Robison and point guard Abby Soto, have turned that one tough tryout into a friendship.

“When you join a team in high school, you’re with those people pretty much every day,” Mason said. “So it’s hard not to be friends, you do everything together. Over time you realize, you’re going to start telling them everything because you have games [and] practice every night. You’re probably going to become best friends with them and not even notice. I feel like that’s kind of what happened with us.” 

As freshmen, the girls are led by basketball coach Lorie Campbell. She focuses on building the girls’ friendships and team rituals – a focus that further bonds the players as family.

Last year, in the locker room before every game, we used to have a dance circle.  … We’d be screaming and hyping each other up, dancing, doing the weirdest things. Other teams would be like ‘What the heck?’ but it was fun.”

— Abby Soto

“Freshman year, we have to introduce ourselves with a nickname, and it’s mandatory,” Robison said. “I have red hair, so I was just like, ‘I’ll go by Little Red.’ And then Coach Campbell was like ‘No, that doesn’t sound intimidating enough, how about Big Red?’ And then it just stuck for some reason. I was a little embarrassed at first, but I’ve embraced it.”

Campbell’s leadership not only forges the girls’ friendships with one another, but strengthens their development as players.

“I noticed right away that that group was just so intelligent,” Campbell said. “They have grown and really risen to anything I throw at them. We’ve been together a long time, so they are really near and dear to my heart.” 

Four years later, these seniors are in the middle of their final basketball season at McCallum — one that looks very different from those of previous years that had full participation from the student body.

“We lost a lot of people,” Soto said. “That affected us because it was people we thought we were going into senior year with and [we were] kind [of] depending on some of them. But throughout time, I think we’ve adapted to it really well.”

The reason for players not returning: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result: The varsity and freshman teams have to be combined for the season.

And more importantly, the girls have to step up as leaders for the new players on the team.

“They blend well with the freshmen and really do a lot of teaching,” Campbell said. “I think it has allowed the freshmen to ask a lot of questions. It’s a lot of sharing and trying to understand the game better.”

Cheering each other on, girls basketball players jump up from their seats to encourage their teammates on the court. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance to games has been limited, making it critical for the girls to maintain a positive energy for each other when there is no crowd to do so. (Makenzie Mason )

The three girls’ experiences during their own time as freshmen influence their role as leaders.

And so do the interactions they had with the older players on the varsity teams.

“Our freshman year, the seniors didn’t want anything to do with us,” Mason said. “It was just such a horrible feeling. It’s like in movies when they’re like ‘we hate the freshmen,’ that’s how it felt. I didn’t want these freshmen to have the same idea of seniors we did.”

Robison, Soto and Mason know the importance of having a strong community with the team, and understand how it creates a more positive experience.

“We try to connect with them by making jokes and actually having conversations with them,” Mason said. “I think it’s these little things, because when you have a personal connection with someone. It’s easier to tell them what to fix on the court.”

“I just let them know that I’m here as a friend,” Robison said. “I think when they’re most themselves, they play the best. And whenever they’re not afraid to fail, then they begin to succeed.” 

The seniors use encouragement and positivity to motivate each other to play better, keeping morale high in a season where it can be difficult.

I think we’ve been through the roughest of the rough times, especially COVID. [Basketball has] been my light at the end of the tunnel. This was my high school experience. This is what I’ll think of when I look back.”

— Abby Robison

“The people on the bench hype each other up for the other kids on the court,” Campbell said. “You can see how the energy changes when they do that.”

The team becomes their own cheerleaders to help keep spirits high because of limits on allowed attendance to games.

“We’ll be playing and it’ll be dead silent,” Mason said. “But recently, the freshmen have gotten more comfortable and they’ll jump up out of their chairs and it really influences how we play.”

Even without the pandemic, keeping energy high has always been important.

“Last year, in the locker room before every game, we used to have a dance circle,” Soto said. “That was our thing before a game. We’d be screaming and hyping each other up, dancing, doing the weirdest things. Other teams would be like what the heck, but it was fun.”

The seniors allowing the team to not only be about basketball – but the community as well – brings the players together and makes them more than just a team.

“Last season, we didn’t have too many wins,” Robison said “[We were playing] Northwest and then we beat them. I feel like I’ve never been so happy in my life. The buzzer went off and we all just ran out there and high-fived and hugged. We were just so happy to finally bring home a win. I’ll never forget that moment.”

It is their past experiences of both winning and losing that makes them the leaders they are now. As they look toward the future, they are hopeful that new basketball players find the community they did and are grateful for their past experiences.

“I think we’ve been through the roughest of the rough times, especially COVID,” Robison said. “It’s been my light at the end of the tunnel. This was my high school experience. This is what I’ll think of when I look back.”

Because at the end of the day, the efforts of the team aren’t judged by the work of a single player — it is about what can be accomplished when they pool their talents and become a community.

“It’s not a one-person job,” Soto said. “In order to win a game, you really have to work together.

— videography by Makenzie Mason

Senior girls basketball team captains Makayla Mason, Abby Robison, and point guard Abby Soto pose for a photo on Senior Night in the McCallum gymnasium. They girls were honored with flowers and balloons for their final season. After the celebration, the team went on to play Navarro High School, securing a 42-18 victory. during the home game. Photo by Dave Winter (Dave Winter )

Girls basketball Senior Night 1-22-21

Girls basketball Senior Night 1-21-22 DW