Greentown — Naturally, human beings thrive on praise.
Having peers take notice of hard work, no matter how little tangible evidence is produced as a result of that work, can do wonders for a person’s self esteem and continued work ethic.
Many of the members of Eastern’s girls basketball team have gone about their business in thankless fashion this season as the Comets have cleared hurdle after hurdle on their way to the Class 2A state finals.
Senior twin sisters Brittany and Bethany Neeley have combined to score 65 percent of the team’s points this season, and as a result, have received the bulk of the media attention and congratulatory messages.
All the while, players like Taylor Holliday, Ally Oyler, Mercedes Rubow and Jessie Sprinkles have gone about their business, performing the types of tasks that don’t always show up in the boxscore.
And if you ask them, they’re all more than happy to do their part, no matter how tedious and trivial.
“They’ve been huge. They’re what’s allowed us to jell as a group,” Eastern coach Jeremy Dexter said. “They’ve stepped up numerous times throughout this run. The whole group has been huge for us in getting us here. There are countless examples of our kids being selfless. They’ve found their niche, they’re role, and they’re able to excel in those roles because they’ve bought into the idea that the only people who matter is the members of our team family. Kids buying into roles is vital to any team making a championship run.”
A 6-foot sophomore, Holliday has turned herself into a formidable third option on offense and defensive stopper in the post.
On the season, Holliday is averaging 8.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. However, she’s averaging a double-double, 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds, during the postseason, giving the Comets a vital presence around the basket.
“I wouldn’t say one or two girls make or break this team because we’re all needed,” Holliday said. “It just depends on what team we’re playing and who’s guarding who [as it pertains to] who’s going to lead us in scoring. But it doesn’t matter to any of us.”
Her improved defense was most evident in Saturday’s semistate victory over Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, where she held the Knights’ leading scorer, Tashayla Sutorius, to eight points after their first possession of the game.
“Taylor Holliday has done an excellent job of defending in the post,” Dexter said. “Most days we do a post drill where she has to hold a shirt around her neck and is forced to be more active with her feet and lower body to root people out and be more active in there. She’s done a tremendous job of making the right decisions at the right times defensively.”
For Sprinkles, it’s been a whirlwind six months.
A freshman, she was a member of the cross country team that made a strong run to the state finals, finishing in seventh place, ahead of the likes of much-larger schools Fishers, Avon, Westfield and Terre Haute North.
A gifted athlete, Sprinkles has performed the role of the sixth man admirably, which has been vital for team that’s not particularly deep personnel-wise.
“I do whatever they need me to do for them — screen and fill in where I’m needed,” Sprinkles said. “With the twins as teammates for cross country and basketball, I feel so lucky to be here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This week is so exciting. I’m on cloud nine. I can’t even describe it.”
Oyler is known as the team’s 3-point specialist — she’s hit a team-high 52 treys this season.
With the scrappy nature of the Neeleys’ game, players often times find themselves out of position to get back on defense quickly when a shot goes up.
“I’m the safety, the first person to get back once we shoot it and try to prevent teams from getting easy baskets in transition,” she said. “I think it’s pretty important because the farther you get out in the tournament, there’s better, faster, stronger girls. You have to have that person getting back.
“We need all of us doing our jobs to win.”
Rubow is the third senior in the starting lineup, and arguably the person who does the largest amount of things that don’t show up in the boxscore. Her leadership has been leaned upon all season long, and now that the Comets are one win away from a state title, she’s starting to understand the magnitude of her role as a motivator and encourager.
“It’s really exciting — it’s almost like a dream, really,” Rubow said. “It’s been a great season, and taking every step — we call it the journey. We’ve taken it one game at a time, and now that we’re this deep into the postseason, we see it as an awesome opportunity.
“We’ve all been doing our roles all season long, and it’s gotten us here.”