Just five on the floor in the High CountryFeb 24, 2012 By Randy Tucker Staff Writer
Sometimes adversity brings the "big picture" into stark reality.
At Dubois High School, the girls basketball team was dealt a hand this basketball season that many would have refused to play.
But the five -- and only five -- young women and their coach accepted the challenge and wouldn't have it any other way.
Dubois played almost the entire season with three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior on the team this season -- not the varsity team, not the JV team, and not the freshmen team. The entire team.
Head coach Juleen Leseberg embraced the team as it was and set standards for herself and her girls high this season. The Lady Rams didn't win a game this year but that doesn't detract from their effort or team spirit.
"Helping them see the big picture, that basketball is just a step in their lives, is the hardest thing to do," Leseberg said. "Coming into the locker room after they've worked so hard and are in tears is hard. They are a great group and they give me everything they've got every time."
A lot of coaches would be hesitant to make that statement but it's a given on the hardwood in the High Country.
Myriad questions surround managing practices and games with no one to substitute.
"We ran drills with the freshman boys and sometimes scrimmaged with them," Leseberg said. "Adults came in and help with the girls occasionally. Mostly we did
fundamental work and dry runs on things. Having just one girl absent changed the entire dynamics of practice."
Practices consisted of a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two work.
Coach Leseberg looked for leadership on the court in a familiar place. Leseberg's daughter Rachelle, a junior, was oldest player of the team.
"The hardest part is stamina, staying motivated the entire game without getting any time outs," Leseberg said.
Leseberg is familiar with stamina as one of the top 100- and 300-meter hurdlers in Wyoming during track season.
"I think our first track practice will be easy after this season," she said.
Relationships bond these five girls as perhaps no other situation in high school athletics could.
"We all know each other really well. We've built friendships that will last outside the season," Leseberg said.
The camaraderie is a common theme among all five girls.
"You get to know each other really well. We've become sort of a family," freshman Megan Murdoch said.
"We're a very tight knit team. We sit together at lunch every day," Kaitlin Hudson, another freshman said. "Our coach is like our second mom."
The girls related a phrase common to Coach Leseberg when speaking about her team: "I will go to hell and back with a bucket of water for this team."
With some programs interpersonal relationships often create problems, but not at Dubois this season.
"We all respect each other. We all take care of each other, and it's good to have no drama. We know each other very well," sophomore Summer Davis said. "We're strong and we encourage each other to fight on. We're more like a family."
It's not all sunshine and roses on a team with no depth. Practices were hard, but games took exertion to a new level
"You don't ever get to rest. On a big team you get a chance to sit. You don't ever get a break. No matter what, you can't come out," Murdoch.
All hands on deck
The level of competition for a player separated from junior high school by just a few months is a challenge. "Stepping up and playing at the varsity level as a freshman is hard," Emily Smith said. "It is a lot higher level of play than eighth grade."
Coach Leseberg used every one of her allotted timeouts during every game, not necessarily for strategy but simply to give the girls a brief break.
"We got very tired, and it was hard to finish," Davis said.
"To play without being able to quit at all, even for a little bit, was hard," Hudson said. "Wanting to help the team kept us going."
In spite of the adversity and the thought of not winning a single game every player thinks the experience was valuable and didn't hesitate in saying "definitely" when asked if they would do it again.
"Of course. We've proved we can do it. I wouldn't be afraid to do it again. It's been hard but it's been fun, Leseberg said.
"I've very blessed to be part of this team. It is perfect, even though we haven't won a game," Davis said late in the season.
"I'm improving a lot as a player," Smith said. "On a bigger team I wouldn't get to do the things I'm doing."
Heads held high
With the optimism of youth the team looks forward to next season when they will be joined by a couple of current eighth-graders and finally will have substitutes.
They look to the top-ranked Little Snake River Rattlers for motivation as well. Snake River played back-to-back seasons just a few years ago with only five players but now considered the best team in Class 1-A.
"We know it's tough but wait until we're seniors. Snake River, that's going to be us," Hudson said.
"We've had so much experience that we're going to be very good."
Leseberg summed up the season from the team's viewpoint. "We appreciate the support that everyone has given us. The whole county seems to be behind us."
Win or lose, this team is a winner.
"If anyone ever has the opportunity to do this it is awesome," Murdoch said.