CULVER — With 1:44 left in LaCrosse’s 65-50 loss to Oregon-Davis in Saturday’s Class A Culver Sectional final, Tigers coach Chris McGowen made his last substitutions of the game.
He made sure Claire Garwood and Madi Heavlin could join fellow seniors Mya Morrow, Sami Vance and Morgan Wozniak on the floor for their final moments on the basketball court together. It was 104 more seconds for the five to play some ball together – something they’ve done for the majority of a decade.
The LaCrosse fans in the crowd recognized McGowen’s gesture, as they all rose to their feet and chanted, “Let’s go Tigers,” with a loud, burning passion that could be felt in every bone of your body. It didn’t matter their team was down 15 points. They knew just how much adversity the five of them overcame not only this year, but in their respective careers with one another.
Tears visibly emerged in all five of the girls’ eyes, as it was finally hitting them that their high school basketball careers were coming to a close.
“It’s just crazy because you think that last game is going to be so far from your first game freshman year,” said Wozniak, who had 19 points in her final high school game. “And then, it’s just not far away at all. It goes by so fast and you don’t realize it until it’s too late.”
While the mood in the locker room was as emotional as ever, with their cries still audible through the door in between the room and the hallway, it’s a unique type of sadness. Sure, they’re unhappy with falling short in the sectional final. But that’s not what’s fueling their emotions. It’s the friendships and unbreakable bonds on the court they’ll miss more than anything.
“I think I’m going to miss the bus rides with all of them the most,” Wozniak said. “We all just sing and dance and scream and mess around. It’s so much fun. Those are the moments I’ll remember most, for sure.”
LaCrosse finished 10-14, while O-D will advance at 19-4.
“We have this one song we listen to that’s always the last song before we get somewhere,” Morrow said. “’Strawberry Wine’ by Deana Carter. We’d always just sing that as loud as we can. I’m going to miss that a lot.”
Their singing may have made McGowen’s eyes roll to the back of his head, but it’s the quirkiness he’s going to miss most about this senior class.
“You never know what they’re up to,” he laughed. “They’re always joking, always having fun with each other. Teasing each other, teasing me, teasing coaches. Just their overall quirkiness is what I’m going to miss most. They’re just a group of kids that are so much fun to be around.”
While their intangibles and personalities are what he’ll miss most, he knows how difficult replacing five seniors will be. McGowen is optimistic about LaCrosse’s future in girls basketball and knows they had a great chance to go far in postseason play this year.
Losing in the sectional final may have seemed like one of the harder moments of the girls’ lives at the time, but he made sure to put things in perspective for all of them. It may hurt now, but their lives are just beginning, in the best way possible.
“It’s going to be a hard class to replace,” McGowen said. “I told them that bigger and better things are in the future for them. They’re all going to grow up to be fine young ladies. They’re going to have kids and be great mothers and wives. They’re all great people. This is going to hurt for awhile for them and this is important and we worked hard for it, but there’s bigger things to come for all of them.”