RUSSIAVILLE — The current seniors in Western’s girls basketball program knew they had something special, even at a young age.
The success started early. As fifth graders, the squad won its first organized, school-affiliated game by 60 points, and the precedent had been set. By the time their middle school days were over, they had amassed a 63-0 record, meeting little resistance on their way to perfection.
Although the competition has been stiffer during their high school days, they’d already grabbed the label of being part of the most successful team in school history as four of the seniors — Kiersten Durbin, Jessica Givens, Caitlyn O’Neal and Carley O’Neal — played major roles on the 2012 squad that won the program’s first regional title.
They fell short of their dreams of playing for a state championship that year. They wouldn’t be denied this time around.
A 41-31 win over Norwell in last weekend’s Class 3A semistate was the final piece of the puzzle for the Panthers’ senior class, which is seven players strong. And, as they prepare for their state finals matchup with Evansville Mater Dei, their final week as high school basketball players have been a mix of celebration, game planning, and most importantly, reflecting with pride about what’s been an incredibly successful journey.
“I’m still kind of soaking it,” Carley O’Neal said. “This is something we dreamed about our whole high school careers, and even in middle school really. I’m speechless. This is exactly what we wanted and what we’ve dreamed of, ending with a bang. We’ve accomplished all of our goals, and this is icing on the cake.
“We’ve all realized this is the last game of our careers,” Carley continued. “It’s bittersweet. We’ve extended our season as far as we could. This is the state championship. We all talk about reminiscing about, ‘Hey remember when, [etc.],’ and we’ll laugh. But it’s sad because we realize that’s not going to happen anymore after this game.”