FISHERSVILLE – After leaving Wilson Memorial High School on a recent Friday morning, I stopped by a store on my way home. As I was getting out of the car, I checked my phone and saw an email from Lexi Deffenbaugh.
Fifteen minutes before receiving the email I was interviewing Deffenbaugh for this story, so I was curious if she had forgotten to tell me something. I opened the email. It read, “WE WERE SOMETHING TO BE RECKONED WITH! :).”
I started laughing.
Two years ago, before Deffenbaugh’s junior season, I asked about her expectations for the season. She said, “I think we have a good team. I think we’re something to be reckoned with.”
I added that quote to the News Leader’s Wilson Memorial season preview and several of Deffenbaugh’s classmates thought it was funny, giving her a bit of a hard time about it. They didn’t let her forget about it either. Her forestry class had to come up with a business plan for a logging company. The company’s slogan was “We are a forest to be reckoned with.”
Deffenbaugh, the News Leader’s All-City/County Player of the Year, was correct though. The Hornets were a team to be reckoned with the past two years, winning back-to-back Conference 36 titles, claiming a Region 2A East championship this season and making two appearances in the 2A state tournament.
The senior point guard was also something to be reckoned with. Deffenbaugh finished her four-year varsity career with 1,326 points, starting every Wilson Memorial game — 104 — in those four seasons. This season she scored 13.9 points per game, second on the team, and led the Hornets with 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals a game. Wilson won 76 games in Deffenbaugh’s four years, including 47 the last two seasons.
“That’s a pretty good legacy,” Wilson Memorial coach Jackie Bryan said of Deffenbaugh and the senior class. “It just sets the tone for the rest of them … they just set the bar and set it high.”
Deffenbaugh earned the player of the year award for both Conference 36 and Region 2A East and was named to the 2A all-state first team by both the Virginia High School Coaches Association and the Virginia High School League this year.
But to understand why Deffenbaugh was the area’s best player, you have to go beyond the numbers and the awards. That Friday morning, after reading the first email she sent me, I saw a second one. Her message this time was asking me to make sure to give recognition to her fellow seniors. Deffenbaugh knew that she and Jordan Sondrol have received a bulk of the attention over the last two years and, while that attention was well-deserved, she wanted to make sure everyone knew success wouldn’t have happened without the other players.
“Jordan Poole and Morgan [Rowe] definitely did not get the recognition they need,” she wrote. “Jordan Poole could impact so quickly with shooting and driving. Morgan really aggravated offensive players and she was really missed [at the end of this season]. Rachel [Gray] supported us and was a very hard worker on our team. I will miss all of the seniors as they have not only impacted the team and Wilson in general, but it’s going to be hard to leave such a great group of teammates and lifelong friends.”
Even with her high school playing days behind her, she’s still dishing out assists to her teammates. That’s not surprising. Jordan Poole told me that whenever someone on the team needed support or encouragement, Deffenbaugh was there to offer it. To Poole, though, Deffenbaugh was more than a teammate. She was a friend.
“We get each other in a way that it just works,” said Poole, “and if we need each other we are there for one another.”
Deffenbaugh was hoping Poole would join her at Eastern Mennonite University next fall, but Poole chose Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. So Deffenbaugh will head to Harrisonburg — she’ll probably play shooting guard for the Royals — without any of her former Wilson teammates.
“We’ve just grown up together, it’s comfortable,” said Deffenbaugh. “We’ve had lots of fun and we’ve made a ton of memories and it’s going to be hard to let that go.”
Still, she’s ready for the next step and she’s glad that step will be close to home. Deffenbaugh considered Lynchburg College, but said after her visit she just didn’t feel the school was a good fit for her. She also got a partial scholarship offer to Missouri Valley College, an NAIA school in Marshall, Missouri, but when it came time to make a decision, staying close to home was the deciding factor.
“We are thrilled,” said Deffenbaugh’s mom, Renae. “We did not wish to impact her decision. We really tried not to, but we’re very thankful that we’ll have the opportunity to follow her a little more closely.”
It’s an added bonus that Jori Deffenbaugh, Lexi’s older sister, lives in the Harrisonburg area. The sisters are five years apart in age and Jori admits that, when they were younger, they fought a lot, but in recent years they’ve grown very close. Jori is hoping by living nearby next year that sisterly bond will grow even stronger. Plus, it will be much easier now for Jori to see Lexi play basketball.
“I love watching her,” said Jori. “She’s so talented and she works so hard. I know a lot of the things she does behind the scenes. She really works on her game so when she comes to the court she performs. It’s just really fun to watch.”
Much of the family time for the Deffenbaughs has revolved around basketball. If Mom and Dad weren’t watching Wilson Memorial, they were watching Lexi at AAU practices or games. At times it seemed like Lexi spent more time in the gym than anywhere else. Maybe she did.
“She’s dedicated,” said her father, Jeff Deffenbaugh. “I’m telling you the girl works hard. I don’t think people realize how much time [she] puts in the offseason.”
Those car trips to AAU tournaments two or three weekends a month in the spring and summer were times the family could talk, turning off the radio and discussing what was happening in everyone’s lives.
That was also a time they could set goals and Lexi was all about goal setting. One of the main goals was to help lead her team back to Richmond and the state tournament this year, which she did, but Wilson wasn’t able to pull off the ultimate goal of a state championship. Deffenbaugh’s parents said their daughter was understandably disappointed, but she and her team did everything they could do.
“She knew really how hard it was to get to that point too,” said Jeff Deffenbaugh. “They had tough competition.”
Now, Lexi Deffenbaugh has started setting new goals as she looks ahead to EMU and, down the road, a possible future as a coach. Still, the family will miss seeing her play high school basketball.
“It’s been a blast,” said Renae Deffenbaugh. “It’s been a joy.”