She lingered by the tunnel opening late Friday afternoon, hands on her hips, the silhouette of her body contrasted against the lighted, empty interior of the Resch Center court.
Was New London senior Brenna Heise taking one last look? Was it perhaps one last memory to burn in her mind?
She smiled when asked and said she was.
That last goodbye is never easy, especially when it came so suddenly in her team’s 48-47 loss to New Berlin Eisenhower in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal. But that was the rush of emotions that Heise and her teammates had to experience late Friday afternoon.
All those hours of practice, the summer workouts, the defensive drills during the season. All of it gone in a matter of a few hours on this afternoon.
But Heise wanted to remember the positives. Just call her a glass-half-full kind of gal.
“We’re a team,” she said. “We maybe weren’t the closest team coming out, but now we’re the tightest group of girls you’ll ever see. Players, coaches, we just have a great relationship. We go to them for anything and we tell them a lot about or lives and what’s going on.”
Those friendships and bonds forged through close, daily interaction transcend on-court matters like wins and losses.
Of course, the Bulldogs had more wins than losses in the incredible run the past three seasons: A 68-game win streak. Two state championships and a third state appearance. A strong community backing that few girls’ basketball teams in the area can boast of.
But what resonates most to the New London players is what also matters off the court, too.
“I’m just so proud of our team,” New London junior forward Mickey Roland said. “We had a great season. Coming into November and under the radar and people ranking us fifth (in the Bay conference) and then coming all the way to state and making it this far — the game didn’t come out the way we wanted it too, but it was still a good game and we kept our composure. Things just didn’t fall our way, but we’re going to make a strong comeback next year.”
At the helm of the Bulldogs’ journey this season was first-year head coach and New London alum and former player Andrea Flease, who helped keep the Bulldogs’ level of play at a high level.
“They trusted me in what I was telling them and they watched me play when they were growing up and, I’m not sure why, but that gave them confidence in what I do,” Flease said. “I think it helps having a female coach and how different it is — knowing what girls go through. It’s a little bit different and guys might not understand.
“For them to mature through the year and play with the level of passion that I have for the game is all I can ask for and I think our relationship ended it pretty well. We’re going to enjoy it tonight — our last time together.”
Heise said she was happy to be part of a New London program that finished as the premier girls’ basketball team in the area the past three seasons but also about the memories she made off the court.
“Some of these girls, I didn’t even start talking to until I started playing basketball with and now we’ll leave as best friends,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. It’s just an unreal experience to have three times finishing at state. It’s crazy.”
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; On Twitter@PCRicardo