They couldn’t help but cry, of course.
When your season ends all too abruptly and the reality of it all finally sets in, that’s just what teenage girls do.
Then Evan Massey huddled his Galesburg High School girls basketball team together after their 77-70 Class 3A Pontiac Supersectional loss to County Club Hills Hillcrest on Monday and directed them to the throng of Silver Streaks fans in the east bleachers at Crowley Gymnasium.
The 17 girls who somehow made it this far walked over and clapped for the hundreds who drove nearly two hours to watch them.
“It’s not about us,” senior point guard Tai Peachey said. “It’s about everyone in Galesburg and working hard being a team. It’s a big deal.”
During a time when Galesburg has had little to cheer about, a bunch of girls on a basketball court gave their town something to stand up and be proud of.
It’s no secret that this group of Streaks wasn’t the most talented to come through John Thiel Gymnasium. Senior shooting guard Jessica Howard, whose final 3-pointer Monday set the state record for most 3s made in a season, might be the only one to seriously catch a college coach’s eye if they were sitting in the stands.
At the start of the season, Galesburg was a popular pick to finish fourth in the Western Big 6, yet he Streaks ended up having a chance to win the conference championship in the final week of the season. Then they raced their way to a regional title and shot their way to their first sectional championship since 2003. Their loss to the Hawks left them a game away from being among the final four teams in their class in the state still playing.
Think about that. A team picked by many to finish fourth in its own conference was nearly one of the final four teams left in Illinois.
Five? Maybe closer to 15.
And this Little Team That Could did it by sticking to one motto all season. Work hard.
“Anyone who’s seen us play this year,” Massey said, “I think they walk away believing that if there’s one team they’d like to root for, it’s us.”
How can you not root for a team with Howard, who spent hours and hours in the offseason shooting until she’d made 10,000 — yes, 10,000 — 3-pointers?
How can you not root for someone like senior Megan Young, who worked her way back from knee surgery and runs so hard when she’s on the court it looks like she might die trying? Or someone like sophomore Jessica Lieber, who’s constantly diving after loose balls and might fall on the court more than a week-old puppy?
How can you say no to a team with forwards like Sadee Hamilton and Jamie Johnson, who are listed at 5-foot-8 and 5-9, respectively, yet still find a way to battle and come away with rebounds under the basket against bigger players every game?
Try not rooting for a team with a player like Peachey, who took a hard spill in the third quarter Monday and walked back to the bench looking woozy, then was back on the floor just a few minutes later.
“For a while I couldn’t hear anything,” Peachey said. “And I thought, Uh-oh, that might be a problem if I can’t hear anything when I get back in.”
Yep. She was ready to come back even if she couldn’t hear the bounce of the ball or the referee’s whistle.
Against all odds, this was the team that put Galesburg girls basketball — something that just two years ago looked like a lost cause — back on the map, and these Streaks taught us something we can all learn from.
Work hard, and you never know what might happen.