There's a certain fondness that comes with covering the same group of players for four years.
Maybe it's through the many interviews with them after wins or losses. Or getting to know them and their families a little bit better through various feature stories. Or seeing them persevere through injuries or pain.
I can't quite put my finger on it, exactly. On Saturday, though, I found myself rooting a bit for those players — seniors and four-year starters Brittany Hicks, Kelsey Murphy, Kristen Haley and Aja Wallpher — as they won their second Capital Athletic Conference championship in four years as the leaders of the York College women's basketball team.
I know. As a journalist, there's no cheering allowed in the press box. But that doesn't mean I don't want our local teams to perform well. And I'm still going to be objective as a reporter. It's just that I've developed an inclination for wanting to see this year's club succeed.
Injuries: Why? Well, for beginners, just about every player in the starting five has battled through injury.
Hicks, the York Catholic grad, has played through nagging pain to her right shoulder and right knee all season. She also continues to get back up from some of the hardest hits I've seen on the hardwood, a result of banging around with other forwards in the paint.
Murphy and Wallpher have both come back from left knee surgery at some point in their basketball careers. Wallpher also has a nagging wrist injury and back pain, the latter of which won't subside until her playing days are over.
We could throw starter and redshirt junior Jess Selby in this group, too. After all, Selby would be part of this senior class had it not been for a season-ending knee injury just a week into last season, which resulted in a medical redshirt.
Off the court: Off the hardwood, all four current seniors have dealt with hardships. Hicks has had two grandparents, two aunts and an uncle die from the time she was 15. Haley's mother, Sue, is currently battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer in the lymph tissue. Sue Haley, considered the mother of the team, was one of many people who provided assistance in different ways to the Wallpher family years ago when Wallpher, along with her mom, dad and two younger siblings, were evicted from their Maryland home because they couldn't pay the mortgage.
And as you'll learn in a story I'm working on for later this week, Wallpher and Murphy have each overcome serious battles with depression in recent years.
Winning: Through it all, this group of seniors has already become the winningest senior class in the history of the program. They've also set some individual records along the way.
Hicks and Haley each surpassed the 1,500 career-points mark last week. And Hicks moved into the top-five all-time scorers in program history on Saturday. She already owns the program and Capital Athletic Conference record for made free throws in a career and is third in school history in career rebounds. And her 40 career double-doubles are a school record — and I'm sure there are other notable marks I'm missing here, but those are the ones that come to mind.
Anyway, Haley owns the school record for blocked shots and is fourth on the all-time rebounding list. Wallpher is the all-time Spartans leader in assists and steals. And Murphy is York's all-time 3-point leader.
With the help of several teammates, this group of seniors has won two conference titles, reached the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 and will make its third appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament later this week — the seeding and brackets for the tournament are expected to be released Monday afternoon.
Hicks boldly proclaimed Saturday she feels this club has what it takes to win a national title.
I surely wouldn't object to seeing the Spartans cut down the nets one more time.
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.