Theses Warriors deserved better basketball fates |

Theses Warriors deserved better basketball fates

Column by Steve Yingling

Fate should have been kinder to three of Whittell High’s basketball workhorses on Saturday night in Zephyr Cove.

Emotions were transparent as the four-year varsity basketball careers of Aurora Terry, Sarah Sufka and Dusty Apocotos culminated against Lovelock devoid of an intense playoff atmosphere.

Given their respective athletic abilities and exemplary role-model conduct, you’d think they’d have collected enough basketball hardware to decorate their parents’ living rooms.

On the contrary, they endured more setbacks than a small-town city budget. But they lost with class – something that is rare among athletes today as they escalate their whining and complaining each time an official blows a whistle.

Yet, there was hope that these three Whittell athletic icons would conclude their prep hoop careers with memorable wins. After all, Lovelock was visiting and, like Whittell, had no postseason plans.

Sadly, a teary-eyed Sufka watched from the bench during the final minute of overtime as Lovelock rallied for a 68-63 victory. Terry did all she could to produce a victory in the four-minute overtime session, equally hustling to the offensive and defense courts. The inseparable seniors combined for 43 points, but once again it wasn’t enough to delay the start of their track and softball seasons.

“It’s tough to come back losing season after losing season, but it was too hard to stay away from the great group … a strong core who got along so well together. I had to come back. I wasn’t going to let my coach down,” Terry said.

Terry and Sufka briefly considered skipping their senior basketball seasons, but that was only the no-end-in-sight defeats clouding their thinking.

“It was definitely worth it. Just being with Aurora and Vanessa (Brewer), who I have been with for four years and Ms. Wines, she stuck with us,” Sufka said. “I love basketball. Even if we don’t come out on top all the time to play with a team that had heart and to come out like this, it’s definitely worth it.

“Besides, I wouldn’t have been able to come and watch the games if I wasn’t playing.”

In four seasons, Terry, Brewer and Sufka only experienced the thrill of victory two times against division foes. Their fortitude to look beyond the down side of defeat will endear them to Wines forever.

“They are dedicated kids. They don’t listen to the outside flak,” said Wines, who lists the three as the only players to continue through the program all four years since she started coaching at Whittell eight years ago. “Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off for them, but they are just great kids.

“All three are going to be very successful because they are focused and they stick to what their goals are.”

While shaking off the emotional heartache of her career-ending overtime defeat, Terry wasn’t shocked to see Apocotos warming up for his career finale with a patch covering his left eye.

“Oh, yeah, you don’t give up four years of your time and then just watch your very last game. This is his last high school game. Of course, he’s going to give it everything,” Terry said.

If not for a ankle injury to embark his senior season and an poorly timed eye ailment to conclude it, Apocotos and the Warriors would have been participating at this week’s zone tournament at Incline High.

Apocotos was poked in his left eye while keeping the ball away from a Manogue defender last Wednesday. Whittell led by 12 points at the time, but without their inspirational leader in the second half the Warriors lost 57-51. Apocotos also didn’t suit up on Friday as Hawthorne eliminated the Warriors from playoff contention, 66-53.

“He was afraid he’d hurt the team instead of making us better. He’s so unselfish,” said senior center James Putnam.

“It was some kind of weird fate, but things happen,” Apocotos said. “Saturday night I felt I had to play because I’m never going on that court again.”

Like the soccer team he helped guide to the state semifinals, Apocotos felt confident that Whittell’s basketball team would play several bonus games.

“If we played the way we did in the first half against Manogue every game, no one would touch us. We’d win state, I honestly believe that,” Apocotos said. “We went on a 5-1 streak and we beat the best teams in our league, so we proved we can play ball, even though we didn’t make the playoffs.”

The 60-48 season-ending loss to Lovelock dropped Whittell to 10-14 for the season, including a 5-7 fifth-place mark in Division II. Apocotos and the rest of the Warriors took great satisfaction in the latter accomplishment since in a preseason poll of coaches the Warriors were picked last in the seven-team division.

“Once you walked into this locker room and saw that poll, it was like, ‘Oh, man.’ That got us fired up,” Apocotos said. “We just had to work hard because no one wants to be known as last place.

“We never met our expectations, but I think a lot of coaches know if we were at full strength, then we could be the best team in the league.”

Four seasons of hardwood disappointments only mask what these Warriors really are – winners.

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