As her red-eyed players emerged from the locker room one-by-one, coach Janis Beal stood in a narrow hallway at Casper’s Thunderbird Gym, waylaying each Lady Trapper with a hug.
This action, this demonstration of shared affection, was a punctuation mark on a season they all knew they would remember no matter where their life paths led.
It was a melancholy ending to a glorious and satisfying 25-8 season for a Northwest College women’s basketball team that knew what it had.
As the days dwindled on the season, coach and players were up-front about what a special group, what a special team this was, what a special bond it developed.
The word “special” was heard as often as basketball lingo, as the coach described the team and as the players talked about this year together.
For several reasons. There was a closeness, a sisterhood not all teams possess. There was the record. Seasons of 25 wins don’t come along regularly. In junior college, careers zip by in an eye-blink, just two years. Most of the players were sophomores who worked to assimilate last year and lived up to their potential this year.
Unselfishness was a trait characterizing the Trappers. In any given game a different player led the team in scoring. There was no dominant individual.
The top scorer was Dallas Petties, whose average was 10.1 points a game. In some of the Trappers’ higher scoring games 13 different players scored.
Northwest’s season ended in Casper with a loss to Western Nebraska in the Region IX semifinals. At that point in the year it is one-and-done if the outcome starts with an L.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Petties, a 6-foot center from Denver. “It’s the last time I get to wear a Northwest jersey. I’m not ready to be done.”
It was a pass-the-Kleenex-moment as the players trickled out of that locker room. Tears still flowed for some.
Throughout the season, the team gathered weekly for bonding activities away from the court. Not every team wants to see the others away from the field, lest fist-fights break out.
There were famous New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics teams that didn’t seem to like one another much, but won anyway. Some years ago it was said the Boston Red Sox players were so estranged from each other they took 25 different cabs away from the park after a game.
Not so the Trappers. This group would be more likely to help out with extra rides to out-of-the-way places.
“I’m going to miss this so much,” sophomore Dani McManamen said. “This was such a great experience.”
This was the winningest team in Beal’s nine years as coach and that alone makes it memorable, if only in stark numbers.
“They are a special group,” Beal said.
Through her eyes what helped define the team was how players bought into the idea of “team over self, we over me.”
Yes, there were games when a baker’s dozen Trappers thrust their names into the box score, but not every game. Inevitably, even where minutes are somewhat democratically distributed, certain players get more playing time than others, certain players are more likely to pick up splinters on the bench than others.
Sure, players care about opportunity, but to watch Northwest all season, it seemed it had the most enthusiastic bench in the country, cheering the little things, erupting for the big things.
Neither fans nor statisticians really measure how long or loudly a bench cheers, so that is mostly perception.
Only this was something Beal noticed – and referees too. Beal said she was told by officials more than ever before “My team needs to sit down faster after they celebrate.”
Whoever heard of such a thing: A team being warned it could receive a technical foul for generous teammate support?
So the Trappers had depth of emotion as well as depth on the court.