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March 1, 2014

Together as one

Big senior class leads Western against Norwell in today's semistate

Russiaville – Three seasons ago, on Nov. 10, 2010 to be exact, Western girls basketball player Caitlyn O’Neal got some unsettling news as she was preparing for her first high school game.

“My sister [Carley], she was injured due to a soccer injury, so she was injured and I remember back then Kathie Layden was our coach, and her telling me ‘you’re going to have to start the first varsity game and be point guard,’” Caitlyn O’Neal recalled. The O’Neal sisters are twins, and Carley had been the point guard of the two throughout their unbeaten run in middle school.

“I remember wanting to pee my pants when she told me that.”

Three seasons ago, Raven Black was a freshman at Taylor and her coach with the Titans Dennis Bentzler stoked her imagination about playing in big games with big crowds.

Black says she’s wanted to take the floor in those games “ever since my freshman year, [Bentzler] talking about how crazy it was to be in a gym in front of so many people getting ready for a semistate game, and I remember really wanting to experience that.”

Today, Caitlyn O’Neal and Black are preparing to take on Norwell at approximately 6 p.m. in the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate. They’re part of a group of seven seniors at Western, guided by third-year coach Chris Keisling. Today’s winner gets a date in the state final on March 8 in Terre Haute.

Black transferred to Western before her junior season, and former Taylor teammate Siera Daniel enrolled in Western this school year. They join fellow seniors the O’Neal twins, Kiersten Durbin, Jessica Givens and Kaysie Mulkey to give the Panthers a wealth of experience, versatility and skill that has propelled Western to a 21-3 record.

“This year it’s kind of surreal,” Black said. “I’m so glad to have this team and share it with such an amazing group of girls on and off the floor.”

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