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Special seniors lead Chesterton girl’s basketball to dream season

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on February 22, 2011 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky

They saved their best act for the biggest stage.

Chesterton girls’ basketball, led by the splendid senior duo of Brooke Gardner and Claire Holba and 41-season coach Jack Campbell, took their first Sectional crown in five seasons.

Next the senior sensations are off as the only area representatives to join Indiana’s top 100 players competing for positions on the Indiana All-Stars team in the annual challenge with the Kentucky All-Stars team this summer.

The road to the title was not an easy one, but it did have the mammoth support of the community and the school.

Campbell has seen quite a lot in his tenure, but nothing as rewarding as this title.

“To beat Portage at Portage (in the Sectional title game) … it’s hard to think of a tougher match up,” he said. “We had the toughest draw. But, you know, all seven Sectional games were excellent basketball. No one won by more than seven.”

Chesterton had split the season series with their Sectional opponents and had lost both rematches, meaning the opponents had the most-recent victories against the Trojans.

“We had a great crowd at Sectionals; we had our side of the gym and they had theirs and believe me, we heard them,” Campbell said.

“But, you know, it is never about the end of the season but the entire season,” the coach explained.

“They put in work year ’round for this, lifting in the summer and we go to three tournaments before we even start practicing two weeks before the season starts.”

Part of this season included a game against Highland, where Campbell’s daughter is an assistant coach.

“Yeah and we really creamed them,” said Campbell of coaching against his daughter. “We won 45-44.”

No one had a tougher time prepping for this championship season than did Gardner.

The long road from there to here started three seasons ago when her family moved into the district – from arch-rival Portage.

As a sophomore transfer, the Indiana High School Athletic Association allows limited eligibility. That meant she had to play on the junior varsity team her sophomore year until the late-season call-ups after the JV season ends.

“So,” said her coach, “she played a few games then and then three games into her junior season …”

“I blew out my anterior cruciate (ligament). I knew it immediately,” said Gardner.

Female players have a higher incidence of torn ACLs than their male counterparts. It is just a physiological fact.

It does not make the injury any less painful or shorten the recovery time. But she did have some bedrock upon which to build. First off were her parents. Then there was Holba, a basketball pal of Gardner’s since they were in elementary school playing in the Portage Youth League.

“You know, I have very motivating parents,” Gardner said.

“The first thing they said was I could play again or not play again and they’d back me.”

The second option, of course, never was considered for this self-styled “gym rat” who dreams of college ball and then some professional league, either in America or overseas. She does have offers for full rides in college and will pick one when she further investigates the academic offerings.

“I actually tore it (the ACL) twice,” she said.

“I am not one who cries. The first time it hurt but I didn’t cry. The second one hurt more and, well, you got blood from a rock; I cried.

“My parents and Claire helped push me through the whole ACL situation. They were behind me, with me 100 percent. I cannot be without basketball.”

The day after surgery, she got back on weight training.

“And it helped because all I could work on was my upper body. In a strange way, the ACL helped me because I could focus on getting in shape not playing and then I was really ready,” she said.

They hadn’t told anyone else this, but both Gardner and Holba, independent of the other, wrote down “Winning Sectional” as a realistic goal this season.

Each said the other’s idea of something they could realistically attain was no surprise because the thing about Chesterton girls’ basketball this season is they can anticipate the ideas of each other and thus never get flummoxed on the court.

“I do get a lot of double-teams but that’s OK because it means someone is open ad that’s usually Claire.

“We are quite the dynamic duo,” observed Gardner.

Never was that more apparent than in the 41-36 Sectional title game.

Trying to protect the thin margins, Chesterton did not score a basket in the final quarter, relying on icy nerves at the free-throw line.

“Part of it was the pace of the game,” Campbell said. “They were being cautious and working for shots when they had the ball and we weren’t about to make a mistake; they had to foul us to get it back.”

With 63 seconds left, it was down to two points. With 35.6 seconds left, Gardner went to the line for two free throws that could seal it.

There is something about destiny that allows a great player who was denied most of two of her three varsity seasons, to be put in that spot at that moment in history. So, of course, she hit them both.

“The first Sectional win was just great,” Gardner said. “We did it for our coaches, our families and for the student body.”

Holba, of course, had the traumatic mental anguish of seeing her friend hurt, of realizing she had to play a season without her. And the coach asked her to do more in Gardner’s absence, specificall, bring the ball down court.

Which, to Holba, made her a better player.

“When we went into a little slump we all knew we’d just play our way out of it because we had overcome last season,” Holba said.

In that Sectional final, for instance, she said she didn’t even realize they hadn’t scored a basket in the fourth quarter until she began to discuss it for this story.

She knew they had won and that was the main thing – to win as a team.

“No one has an ego, we just all play to win,” she said.

“And we always concentrate on defense anyway. Of all the teams I’ve ever been on, this is the best one because we just know each other.

“Winning Sectional has always been one of my dreams. I always knew we could do it.”

Part of her confidence comes from her family. Her dad, Tom, played at Michigan State University.

“I guess that makes me from an athletic family,” Holba said.

After high school, when she is on campus at IUPUI, she said she will let this “surreal” dream season sink in.

“They announced us on the school PA,” she said. “Everyone comes up to us in the halls and congratulates us. It is a great experience.”

She plans on following the “medical route” in her college courses, as does Gardner, who said she has a natural affinity for kinesiology, “and, of course, medical training and rehabilitation.”

The 2011 Anthem Kentucky/Indiana All-Stars Basketball classic is set to take place June 10 in Louisville, Ky. at Bellarmine University Knights Hall. The 2011 teams have yet to be announced. For more information, visit www.kyallstars.net.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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