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Pat settled into her seat at the front of the plane, confident that Marcie and Kelley would make sure the players boarded and were seated. She opened the notebooks she had removed from her bag before stowing it in the overhead compartment. Studying the pages she had flagged, she toned out the activity going on around her so she could focus on the information she was reading. The Cougars were leaving on a three game road trip and she had a lot of information about their opponents she needed to review.
Marcie dropped into the seat beside Pat just as the plane backed away from the terminal.
“We set?” Pat asked without looking up from her reading.
“Yeah. Where’s Mac?”
“Business meeting in Seattle. She’ll meet us in San Diego.”
“You need to buckle up, Coach,” the flight attendant said as she walked down the aisle checking on all the passengers.
“Tulsa was tough on defense last year,” Pat said of the team’s first opponent, complying with the request.
“And they should be again this year, all their starters are back.”
“Peters had knee surgery over the off season,” Kelley sat in the unoccupied seat next to Marcie, buckling her seat belt. “Some people are saying she’s slow coming back from it.”
“What about Daniels?” Marcie asked. “I heard she got married and might not be putting as much into the game any more.”
“Doesn’t seem to make much difference on the court,” Pat muttered, flipping through pages. “Her last game, she missed a triple-double by one assist.”
“No kidding?” Marcie whistled softly.
“Sixteen points, twelve rebounds and nine assists,” Pat read the stats off the notebook page.
“Guess marriage hasn’t affected her game.”
Dawn listened to the coaches’ discussion from her seat in a few rows behind them, her lover sitting beside her.
Mandy twisted in her seat to slip her hand between Dawn’s legs.
Dawn grabbed the hand gliding up her thigh. “Knock it off,” she grumbled, pulling it away from her.
“It’s a long flight, Dawnie,” Mandy pouted, dragging a fingernail up the player’s arm and raising goose bumps in its wake. “I need something to keep me occupied.”
“Read this,” Dawn yanked a magazine out of the pocket of the seat in front of her, tossing it into Mandy’s lap.
“I don’t want to read.”
“Then take a nap. Or do whatever the team pays you to do. Just leave me alone, I’ve got some stuff to think about.”
“What stuff?” Mandy asked, twisting back around in her seat and flipping the magazine into the empty seat beside her.
“Nothing you need to be concerned with,” Dawn grunted. She turned to look out the window, placing her back to her lover. She didn’t have time for Mandy right now, with the news that Mac wasn’t going to be in Tulsa she had some details to work out. As the plane built up speed for takeoff, she turned her head. Her stare and thoughts focused on the unsuspecting point guard sitting a row up on the opposite side of the aisle.
The bus pulled up in front of the hotel just as the sun was setting in the west. The Cougars had flown into Tulsa a day early so that they could have time to practice the morning of the game. Pat felt it was good for the players to get a feel for the court they would be playing on.
“Mandy, get up here,” Pat called to the back of the bus where her assistant had been sharing a seat with Dawn.
Mandy walked up to the front of the moving bus, when she reached the coach she placed her hand on the back of her seat. Leaning over to reveal her breasts under her loose fitting blouse, she smiled suggestively. “What can I do for you, Pat?”
“I want you to get in there as soon as we stop and make sure everything is ready with the rooms,” Pat frowned at her assistant’s unveiled display.
“Anything for you coach,” Mandy purred, slowly straightening back up.
Pat shook her head in disgust, leaned back in her seat and shut her eyes, effectively ending Mandy’s effort to seduce her.
Dawn wasn’t the only player on the bus paying close attention to Mandy’s behavior.
Sherry had also been watching, though she had been more interested in Pat’s reaction to Mandy’s flaunting. She breathed a soft sigh of relief when the coach showed no signs of being interested.
“What a tramp,” Pete chuckled beside Sherry. “How Coach keeps from knocking her flat is beyond me. I would have done it a long time ago.”
“How long has it been going on?” Sherry asked, surprised that Mandy’s conduct with the coach seemed to be so well known.
“Let’s see, Mac dumped her on the coach two years ago and she’s been doing her best to bed her every since. You’d think by now she’d get a clue it isn’t going to happen.”
“You don’t think so?” Sherry wasn’t asking because she thought Pat would eventually succumb to Mandy’s advances but rather because she wanted to hear Pete’s reasons for it not happening.
“No way. Coach is too classy to take up with anyone like Mandy. She’s looking for long-term not some quick roll in the sack.”
“You sound pretty sure of that.”
“If that’s all she wanted, she could have her pick of any number of women willing to do just about anything to get in bed with her. We see them at every game. Far as I know, she’s never given them more than a passing glance. I’m telling you, she’s just not that kind of woman.”
“Hmm,” Sherry smiled.
“What’s the problem?” Pat asked. The team was standing in the hotel lobby while Mandy argued with the desk clerk.
“They booked us one room too few,” Mandy turned to Pat. “And this incompetent fool is trying to tell me there’s nothing she can do about it.”
Pat glared at Mandy. She had double- and triple-checked their travel itinerary over the past week. There had been the proper number of rooms booked so if they were one short, her assistant must have cancelled it along with Mac’s room before they left Missoula. “Meaning what?” Pat demanded.
“Meaning, I guess I’ll just have to share yours,” Mandy lowered her voice to almost a purr.
Pat never shared a room and her assistant knew they’d be an unoccupied bed in the coach’s room.
“Don’t count on it,” Pat smirked devilishly then turned to the desk clerk. “Are these our keys?” she asked, smiling apologetically as she snatched up the stuffed envelope on the counter.
“Yes, ma’am,” the receptionist smiled, relieved that the obnoxious woman was no longer doing the talking.
“They all have two beds?”
“What floor are we on?”
“The fifth, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” Pat smiled.
“Okay, ladies,” Pat said to the players. “You heard, fifth floor. Everyone to the elevators, I’ll pass out keys when we get there.” She turned back to the young woman behind the counter. “You can call me Coach,” Pat winked as the clerk blushed.
“Wait a minute,” Mandy growled as Pat started to follow the players to the bank of elevators at the side of the lobby. “Where am I going to stay?”
Frowning, Pat looked at Mandy for a moment then turned to survey her players. “You bunk with Pete,” she told her assistant. “Sherry, you’re with me. There, now you have a place to stay,” Pat informed her assistant. “Happy?”
Mandy glared at Pat. Lowering her voice so only the coach could hear, she sneered, “you can’t have a player sleep in your room. You know the rules.”
“There’s no rule about that, Mandy, only about ‘me sleeping with a player’.”
“Mac isn’t going to like this.”
“Probably not, but this isn’t my doing. So, like it or not, she’ll have to accept my judgment on the matter.”
“We’ll see about that,” Mandy threatened, brushing past Pat to get to the elevators.
Pat reached out to stop her, “wait a minute.”
“When you call Mac, be sure to tell her that you cancelled your room. I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear you thought you could force your way into my bed by doing so.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Mandy shook Pat’s hand off her arm.
Pat smirked, “you’re some piece of work, aren’t you?”
“Are we done?” Mandy snarled.
“Yeah,” Pat smirked. “You can go. By the looks of it, you have some explaining to do.”
Mandy stormed away but pulled up short when she saw Dawn leaning against the wall next to one of the elevator bays. “Shit,” she spat out, resuming her walk in the player’s direction.
“Uh,” Sherry stood just inside the room looking around. “Which bed do you want?” she asked as Pat walked into the room.
“Take your pick,” Pat set her bags down on the floor next to the small table under the window. “I’ve got to go down and make sure Mandy didn’t do anything to screw up the restaurant reservations, she said, pulling her notebooks free. “After dinner, I’ll be going over game plans with Marcie and Kelley in their room, so make your self at home. I won’t be back until after curfew,” she told Sherry as she walked out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her.
“Guess that answers that,” Sherry muttered, dumping her bags on the bed closest to the window.
“I want to thank you for the most pleasant evening I had last night,” Pete sarcastically told Sherry, her usual road trip roommate, as they walked onto the court for practice.
“Oh, really?” Sherry snickered, imagining what kind of foul mood Mandy must have been in the night before.
“Can you believe she asked Stacy to switch rooms so she could stay with Dawn?”
“Why didn’t she?” Sherry asked. “I’ll bet Dawn wasn’t much better to be around.”
“Actually, it was Dawn that said no to the idea.”
“Uh oh, trouble in paradise?”
“I doubt it,” Pete laughed. “They seem to have a real love-hate thing going on. They love to hate that they love each other.”
“Come on, ladies,” Pat called to the players. “We’ve got a lot to do in the limited time we have the court.”
Practice consisted of the team taking open shooting practice for a half hour before Pat called them together to run through a couple of plays. She wanted them to get use to the arena surroundings so they wouldn’t be caught off guard by anything during the game. Although all basketball courts were the same, the arenas varied greatly in where things like scoreboards and team benches were located and how close the fans were seated in relation to the floor. It wasn’t unusually for a player in the heat of the game to spot an unusual placement out of the corner of their eye and react to it because they weren’t used to it being there.
“Sherry, Pete, you need to take it to the key tonight,” Pat was telling the players. “They play a sagging defense so can take advantage of that by drawing them to you then passing to whoever’s left open. Okay, let’s run though some plays from half court. Just work on getting your game legs, nothing fancy,” she added. “Sherry, Pete, Val, Terry, Tonie, you take the offense. Wendy, Amie, Latesha, Ashley and Dawn, you’re on defense. Remember, you’re playing a sagging pocket focusing on the ball.”
Sherry trotted to mid-court, dribbling the ball between her legs and switching it from hand to hand to loosen up. When Pat blew her whistle, she headed up court. Pete was several feet off to her right, beginning a move across the court between her and Val positioned at the top of the key. Sherry snapped the ball to Val who flicked to Pete as she ran past.
Pete dribbled around the corner, pulling up when Latesha and Wendy double teamed her. She passed the ball back to Val.
Sherry was cutting to the right side of the court, hoping to get behind a screen being set by Tonie.
Val caught the pass, turned towards the key and saw Sherry racing for the end of the court. She thought about passing to her but Wendy moved in to help cover her and blocked the passing lane. Val spun back around the opposite way, dropping the ball off to Pete.
Sherry saw the ball go to the other side of the court and made a cut that would take her across the middle of the key, jamming her guard, Amie, into Dawn and Ashley as they sagged on defense. If the players reacted as expected, she should be able to make a second cut to the top of the key where she should be open for a fifteen foot turnaround jumper.
Val faked a pass to Pete giving Sherry time to make her second cut then dropped a bounce pass to the point guard coming to the top of the key.
Sherry grabbed the ball, planting her feet she leaped into the air twisting as she rose. She sensed someone closing in on her but expected them to pull up in order not to cause any unnecessary injuries to a teammate. She never suspected Dawn would be the player, nor did she anticipate that the post player would actually charge into her. Since their confrontation in the locker room, Sherry had gone out of her way to avoid Dawn but the post player was not about to let that continue.
Dawn still fumed over the memories of the two games the point guard had been hailed a hero at her own expense and she felt it was time for Sherry needed to learn which one of them was the better player and which one deserved to be on the court. Adding the humiliation of having Pete and Terry come to the point guard’s defense was just too much for her to be expected to accept.
Dawn saw her opportunity and she wasn’t about to let it pass with taking advantage of it. She saw Sherry cut to the top of the key where no defenders would be in position to stop her from taking an open shot. Shoving Tonie aside, she rushed to intercept the point guard. Running at full speed she plowed into Sherry, taking her legs out from under her.
Sherry wasn’t sure what had happened. One minute, she’d been rising off the court to execute an easy turn around jump shot and the next everything went black.
Pat watched in horror as Dawn failed to pull up. She was already running towards the players before Sherry had been knocked into her airborne somersault.
The players froze when Sherry hit the floor and remained still.
Lizzie, who had also watched the play unfolding, raced onto the court screaming, “don’t touch her.”
“Move back,” Marcie ordered the players crowded around Sherry. “Move back, now.”
Kelley grabbed hold of Dawn’s arm, yanking her out of the crowd of players to the side of the court. “What the hell were you thinking?” she pushed the player back into a row of seats causing her to fall into one of them.
“I was just…”
“Shut up,” Kelley growled. “Shut up and stay here until we find out if she’s alright.”
Dawn slumped back in the seat. “I was just playing defense,” she muttered when Kelley ran back out to where Pat and Marcie were watching Lizzie examine the injured player.
“Ugh,” Sherry groaned, reaching to the back of her head.
“Welcome back,” Lizzie smiled.
“She going to be okay?” Pat asked anxiously.
Lizzie didn’t answer. She was concentrating on Sherry and asking her a number of questions as she judged her responses.
“She should be fine. I don’t think she has a concussion but it won’t hurt to take her to the hospital and have them check her. She’s going to have a whopper of a headache for a day or two,” Lizzie patted Sherry on the arm. “And she won’t be playing tonight.”
Hearing that, Sherry tried to sit up.
“Lay still,” Lizzie forced the point guard back down. “You try to stand up right now and you’ll take another header.”
“Ambulance will be here in a few minutes,” Pete ran up to the coaches. She had gone to have one called as soon as she realized Sherry had blacked out.
“Good,” Pat nodded, fighting the urge to drop to the floor and wrap the injured woman in her arms. Slowly she knelt down, placing a gentle hand on Sherry’s shoulder. “You doing okay?” she asked, concern clouding her voice and eyes.
“Think so,” Sherry tried to smile but even that caused her head to hurt.
“Take it easy. Lizzie will go with you to the hospital then take you back to the hotel if the doctors say its okay.”
“I’ll be okay, Coach,” Sherry blinked, attempted to focus on the woman leaning over her. “I can play.”
Pat smiled. “I think it’s okay if you sit this one out, Sherry.” She looked up when two EMTs rolled a gurney onto the court. “Here’s your ride now. You take it easy and do what the doctors say. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Sherry smiled, her eyes never leaving Pat as the coach stood up backing away to give the EMTs room.
Mandy was sitting on the end of the bed watching cartoons, the television turned up loud as she laughed at the antics of the animated characters.
“Would you mind turning that down,” Sherry moaned. She was lying on her side, staring out the hotel room window. Her head hurt like the blazes but the doctors had found no signs of concussion and she had been allowed to return to the hospital as long as someone stayed with her at all times. Lizzie needed to be at the game so Mandy was volunteered to stay with the injured player.
“I can barely hear it as it is,” Mandy grumbled. It wasn’t the first time she’d been asked to lower the volume.
“Then why don’t you go watch it in your room?” Sherry was in no mood for the administrative assistant’s well practice pout.
“Can’t leave you alone,” Mandy shrugged. “Otherwise, I would.”
The door to the room opened seconds before Pat, followed by Lizzie, marched in.
Sherry rolled over on her back, groaning at her throbbing head. She was about to ask about the game but the look on the coach’s face told her everything she needed to know. Obviously, the game had not gone well for the Cougars.
Hearing the noise from the television, Pat switched it off as she walked by. “You can leave, Mandy. Lizzie and I’ll take over.”
“’Bout time,” Mandy stood. “I never signed on to be a baby sitter.”
Lizzie sat on the edge of Sherry’s bed, careful not to cause the player any more discomfort. “How you doing?” she asked, taking careful note of the player’s reactions.
“Head hurts,” Sherry said.
“Have you taken the pain pills the doc gave you?”
“No, they make me sick. Can’t I just have a couple of Advil?”
“Sure,” Lizzie reached into her bag, pulling out the requested pills. “Let me get you some water.”
“I’ll do it,” Pat pushed off her bed, walking into the bathroom.
“That bad?” Sherry whispered so the coach wouldn’t hear. She’d seen the slump of Pat’s shoulders and the frown that seemed permanently affixed to her face.
“It was nasty,” Lizzie whispered back. “Lost by twenty-seven. I think everyone was worried about you, especially Coach.”
“What she’d do with Dawn?”
“I benched her ass for the next two games,” Pat snarled, walking back into the room with a glass of cold water. “Would have thrown her off the team if I thought Mac would let me get by with it.”
“That’s kind of severe don’t you think, Coach?” Lizzie asked, taking the glass from Pat. “She said she was just going for the block. These things happen.”
“Hard to block the ball when you’re aiming at the knees,” Pat dropped back onto her bed. She flopped onto her back, exhausted by the day’s events.
“Thanks,” Sherry said after emptying the glass and downing the pain pills.
“Well, you seem to be doing pretty good for landing on your head. I’m going down to the restaurant for something to eat if Coach will agree to keep an eye on you.”
“I’ll stay,” Pat said. She knew she shouldn’t but she selfishly wanted some time alone with her player.
“You sure, I could get Pete or one of the others to stay with her.”
“I’m sure. I’m too tired to move right now anyway.”
“Want me to bring you something back?”
“Not for me, I don’t think I could hold anything down right now,” Sherry turned a little green just thinking about eating.
“Nah. I’ll just order room service in a bit, if I don’t fall asleep first.”
“Don’t fall asleep too soon, you’re supposed to be watching Sherry, you know.”
“I know,” Pat sat up, swinging her long legs over the side of the bed. “I’ll stay awake, I promise.”
“Okay,” Lizzie stood, walking to the door. “Page me if you need me.”
The room was silent for several minutes after the trainer left. Pat and Sherry looked at each other but neither seemed to know how to break the silence.
Finally, Sherry could take it no longer. “Rough game, uh?”
“Missed my point guard,” Pat sighed.
“Sorry,” Sherry started.
“Not your fault,” Pat stood up. After spending a few heartbeats thinking about it, she moved the short distance to sit on the edge of Sherry’s bed. “How are you feeling?” she asked, brushing a few stray hairs off the guard’s forehead.
“I’ll be fine,” Sherry whispered, clasping Pat’s hand with her own. She held it to her cheek, softly rubbing against it.
Pat’s heart rate increased. “Sherry…”
“I know,” Sherry released the hand. “I just needed to know what that felt like.”
Pat smiled, “nice.”
“You should get some sleep. Let that hard head of yours rest.”
“You too. You look beat,” Sherry hand started upward to caress the coach’s face but she withdrew it when she saw the look of regret in Pat’s eyes. “Promise me something?”
“If I can.”
“When the season is over, we take the time to figure all this out.”
“No,” Sherry reached up, placing two fingers against Pat’s lips. “You don’t have to say yes. Just don’t say no.”
Pat nodded. She gently wrapped her fingers around Sherry’s wrist, pulling the fingers away from her mouth. “Go to sleep,” Pat said softly, placing Sherry’s hand back on the bed.
Cougar Arena – late Second Half – New York 62 Missoula Cougars 73
Sherry dribbled down the right side of the court, passing the ball to Terry at the top of the key then circled back out to the three point line.
Terry looked over shoulder to see Pete tied up on the left side of the court and Tonie and Val having trouble getting free under the basket. She flipped the ball back out to Sherry.
Sherry caught the pass, taking a stutter step to confuse her defender then charged for the top of the key where Terry was setting a pick. She dribbled close, brushing past Terry to dislodge her defender. Two steps further into the corner of the key, she turned towards the basket, an opportunity for an open jump shot clear to everyone in the arena. Her defender spun around Terry, then ran to regain her position. Seeing the movement, Sherry hesitated then back-pedaled several feet away from the key.
Unhappy with Sherry’s unwillingness again to take a shot, the fans let loose a chorus of boos.
“Damn,” Pat muttered.
Since the point guard had rejoined the team for the San Diego game, the coach had watched her pull up on shot after shot whenever a defender was close enough to offer any pressure.
“You need to take her out,” Marcie leaned over close to the coach to be heard above the crowd.
“No, she needs to work out of it.”
“She can hurt us if you leave her in there.”
Pat knew Marcie was right. The Cougars had won in San Diego and in Los Angeles the next night, but not by much. And Sherry’s stats for both games were way below normal for the jittery player.
Sherry dribbled around the top of the three point circle looking for an open teammate.
Pete made a cut across the top of the key, running for a screen Tonie was setting.
Sherry’s defender bit on her fake pass to the other guard, leaving Sherry open. Effortlessly, she pumped the ball into the net from behind the arc.
The boos from a moment before turned to cheers.
“Time,” the New York coach yelled from the sideline.
“That’s why she’s staying in,” Pat smiled, shouting above the crowd to her assistant coach. “She’s still got her shot; all she needs is her confidence.”
Pat sat a few rows up in the first tier of seats watching Sherry practicing free throws. The Cougars had finished the game on the winning side of the score but the point guard was missing from the celebration in the locker room. When the coach went searching, she had a pretty good idea where she’d find her. She knew she was right when she heard the recognizable pattern of two bounces, pause, one bounce, pause, echoing down the corridor followed by a ball rattling the basket rim.
The point guard barely noticed Pat climbing up into the stands to watch her.
Pat knew what Sherry’s problem was. What she didn’t know was how to help her overcome it. She considered several options as she watched the player practice.
It was almost an hour later when Sherry sank her last practice shot in the bucket. She retrieved the ball and headed for the locker room, her path taking her near to where her coach was sitting.
“You have a few minutes?” Pat asked. “Or do you have to get someplace?”
Sherry shook her head, “no. I’m okay.”
“Good,” Pat smiled as she stepped down to the arena floor. “Thought we might talk.”
“Um, Coach,” Sherry said hesitantly, thinking she knew what the conversation was going to be about. “I’m really sorry. I know I’m choking in the key…”
Pat reached out, tapping the ball out of Sherry’s hands. She let it bounce once before catching it on the rebound. “I’m not worried about that.”
“You’re not?” Sherry stared at her coach, so sure was she that Pat was about to chew her out for her play in the last three games.
“Nah,” Pat barely glanced at the basket before releasing the ball in its direction. They were standing on the sideline of the court but the ball dropped through the center of the basket barely disturbing the net. “We all go through spells where we’re afraid to trust our instincts,” she said as she walked to retrieve the ball.
Sherry followed her coach back onto the court. “Even you?” she asked, doubtfully.
“Oh, yeah,” Pat smiled, popping into the air to sink a ten foot jumper. This time, she flipped the ball to Sherry after retrieving it.
Without thinking Sherry caught the pass and duplicated Pat’s shot. “What happened?” she asked, as she trotted for the ball then passed it to her coach.
“My junior year in high school a player from another school thought she should have been named state player of the year. So the next year she took my legs out from under me on a lay-up. I landed on my head.”
“No shit,” Sherry gasped. “That hurt.”
“Sure did. You must have a harder head ‘cause you got off lucky compared to me,” Pat took a couple of steps into the key before popping up in the air for a five-footer. “Spent two days in the hospital with a concussion.”
“Damn,” Sherry caught Pat’s pass, took three steps towards the basket and cut left around Pat who was offering a little pressure, before taking a jump shot. “Messed up your shooting?”
“For a few days. I kept hearing footsteps whenever I thought about leaving my feet.”
“How’d you get over it?”
“I’ve been making baskets since I was old enough to pick up a ball,” Pat smiled at the memory of all the hours spent shooting baskets in the driveway of her parent’s house. “I wasn’t about to let one dirty play ruin my dreams. When my coach finally let me back into a game, I forced myself to ignore the footsteps. Won’t say I didn’t get a scare or two but I bulled my way through them.”
As they exchanged baskets, Pat gradually put more pressure on her player, guarding her a little tighter each time she had the ball. Pat’s knee was screaming in pain but she sensed she was on the right track with Sherry so she ignored the warning signs. She would soak her knee later right now it was more important to get Sherry back on track.
“What happened to the girl?” Sherry asked as she feigned a move into the key then pulled up for a quick jump shot.
“Her coach benched her for the rest of the season, which was basically the whole thing since she hit me in only the second game.” Pat caught the ball after it dropped through the net, immediately flipping it back up against the backboard to drop in again.
“Ouch,” Sherry grunted. She had the ball and when she stepped towards the basket for a lay-up she found Pat moving in on her. A quick step to the right cleared her path to the basket and she banked the ball off the backboard.
“She didn’t suffer too long,” Pat laughed. “Her parents moved out of state and she transferred to a school that didn’t care what she’d done and let her play.”
“Guess that was the last of her, huh?”
“No, I ended up playing against her again in college.”
“You get even?” Sherry asked as she caught a pass then started to drive down the lane.
“Sure did,” Pat smirked, sliding into Sherry’s path and blocking her progress. “It was the first round of NCAA tournament and I had my best game ever.”
Sherry grunted as she tried a head-fake against her coach. When Pat seemed to fall for the fake, Sherry tried to dribble around her but she found her path blocked again. Instinctively, Sherry feigned left, made another head fake then spun a 360 around Pat leaving her nothing but empty floor to the basket. A quick step before she left her feet and the ball kissed the backboard before dropping into the basket.
“Think you can do that in our next game?” Pat asked, smirking at her player.
“I can give it a try,” Sherry grinned, somehow, without her even realizing it, Pat had put her demons behind her.
“Hey, first round of the NCAAs? The year you were voted MVP and set the scoring record? I was at that game,” she said excitedly, remembering being in the stands the night Pat put on a scoring demonstration that had never been equaled and quite possibly never would be. “You scored forty-nine points that game.”
“You were there?”
“Yep. I was a freshman at Western Arizona and the entire team made the trip to Arizona State to see those first round games.” Sherry wasn’t about to tell Pat she had gone more to see her than to see the teams play. “I couldn’t believe that way you played that night. Every thing you threw up went in. It was awesome. So which player was it?”
“I probably shouldn’t say,” Pat grinned. “She plays in the league.”
“Come on,” Sherry whined. “I won’t tell, I promise.”
Laughing, Pat shook her head. “It’s getting late, hit the showers and get some sleep. Practice starts at eight tomorrow.”
“Eight?” Sherry groaned.
“Yep. Don’t be late,” Pat called after the player running for the locker room. Turning to walk over to retrieve the ball, she groaned as she took the first step. “Looks like I’ll be spending the next few hours in the whirlpool,” she grimaced from the pain radiating from her knee. She knew she had stressed the joint way beyond anything she should have attempted but it was worth it she figured as she thought of the look on Sherry’s face when she ran off the court. She smirked. She’d had no idea how to address Sherry’s problem when she’d asked the player to stay and talk but a solution had worked itself out naturally. “Seems I have a knack for this coaching thing, after all,” she grinned, limping across the court.
Smiling, Mac turned away from wall of glass at the front of her office. After noticing that the lights over the court had been left on long after the building should have been cleared of fans; she had left her desk to investigate. She saw Sherry practicing free throws but it had taken a few moments for her to spot her coach sitting in the stands. She had continued to watch when Pat joined Sherry on the court, wondering why the two hadn’t left for home yet. It hadn’t taken her long to realize what the coach was accomplishing with the player.
Cougar Arena - Second Half - Eugene Rafters 72 Missoula Cougars 87
Pete dribbled the ball across the three point line as Sherry kept pace about six feet off her left shoulder. Dawn and Terry were jockeying for position under the basket and Val was drifting off to the left side of the court, taking her defender with her.
Sherry charged for the key, her defender a half step behind.
Pete rifled a bounce pass, leading Sherry into the key.
Snatching up the ball, Sherry took one long stride into the paint planting her foot to push herself upward.
Dawn and Terry’s guards released, converging on the point guard.
Sherry head faked a shot sending the two taller defenders into the air. Twisting her body sideways, she thrust upward slicing between the defenders. The ball, curling off her fingertips, floated over the rim to drop neatly into the basket.
Whistles blew as a Eugene player was called for a foul.
Walking to the free throw line, Sherry glanced over to the sideline and the Cougar bench to see her coach smiling at her.
“Nice shot,” Pete lightly bumped shoulders with Sherry as she trotted past to her position behind the three point line.
“Thanks,” Sherry mumbled, smiling at Pat.
“You ready?” an official asked Sherry who was standing with her back to the basket.
“Yeah,” Sherry nodded, turning around to accept the ball from the official.
“One shot,” the official alerted the other players.
Sherry planted her feet shoulder distance apart, the toes of her shoes just behind the stripe, before beginning her normal routine. Look at basket, two bounces, deep breath, bend knees. One bounce, deep breath, bend knees, push up while raising arms until hands are just over head, flip wrists.
Sherry was already back-pedaling when the ball dropped through the center of the rim.
“Good game, ladies,” Pat said, standing at the front of the locker room. “Nice to have you back, Sherry,” she smiled at the point guard as several of her teammates congratulated her on the return of her game. “We can notch up another W,” Pat added a tick-mark on the marker board behind her showing the Cougars had six wins to their one loss for the season. “Go home and get some rest. Tomorrow, we start getting ready for Little Rock,” she said of the team the Cougars would face in two nights on their home court.
Pat left the locker room, walking into the training room to talk with Lizzie. Except for the fall Sherry had taken, the Cougars had suffered few injuries and she wanted to make sure things hadn’t changed. She was very aware players didn’t always let their coach know when they were injured but the trainer was a little harder to keep that information from.
“Nice game, Coach,” Lizzie said when Pat walked up to her.
“Thanks,” Pat smiled. “It’s nice to have Sherry back.”
“I think everyone feels that way. Fans sure like to see the extra points on the scoreboard. What she end up with tonight?”
Pat nodded. “Anything going on I should know about?”
“Couple of sore ankles, one slightly twisted wrist, more bruises than I can keep track of, but nothing major.”
“I don’t know,” Lizzie smirked. “It’s kind of boring around here. I think I’d prefer a few broken bones.”
“Hush,” Pat warned. “I don’t want you jinxing us.”
“Don’t worry, Coach,” Lizzie laughed. “I wouldn’t complain if we went all season with nothing more serious than what we’ve got now. Mac pays me the same either way.”
“And don’t you forget that,” Pat smiled. “Just keep them healthy for me, Lizzie. I’m going to need all of them to go where we’re going.”
Lizzie tone turned serious. “She seems to have had a change in attitude the past week.”
“Any ideas why?”
“Maybe,” Pat had been surprised when the post player started to put more effort into practice with a lot less attitude. “I think what happened to Sherry shocked her. I doubt she wanted to really hurt her, probably just wanted to ‘make a point’. You know how it is. But when she saw how close she came to really causing some serious damage, I think it scared her.”
“Then maybe it did some good,” Lizzie said. “Though I doubt Sherry would agree.”
“Actually,” Pat said, thoughtfully. “I think she just might. Good night, Lizzie.”
“Night, Coach,” Lizzie thought about Pat’s comment and had to agree that the point guard probably was the kind of player to look positively on Dawn’s turnaround, even if it had come at a high price to herself.
Pat returned to the locker room to walk to her office. Most of the players were gone but she spotted Sherry and Pete talking at the front of the room and decided to join them.
Sherry was sitting, her feet propped up on the wall, as she listened to Pete tell her about the Little Rock guards. She was trying to spend as much time as she could with Pete and Marcie learning everything they could teach her about the game and the other guards in the league. She was sure she was driving the two women crazy with all her questions but it was a way to keep her mind off the woman she really wanted to be spending her time with.
“You two ever plan on going home tonight?” Pat asked as she walked up.
“Oh, sure, Coach,” Pete smiled. “Just as soon as my husband gets here. My car is in the shop and he had to work late.”
Pat glanced up at the clock. “Puts in longer hours than you do,” she said when she saw how late it had gotten to be.
“Good thing we don’t have kids yet,” Pete laughed.
“I’d prefer you leave ‘yet’ out of that comment,” Pat teased.
“Pete, you hubby is out here,” Marcie poked her head into the locker room from the offices.
By order of Pat, no one was allowed in the team’s locker room except players and female members of the Cougar organization.
“Thanks,” Pete leaned down to grab her bag. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Night, Pete,” Sherry called out as the player rushed to meet her husband.
“What about you?” Pat asked after Pete left. Absently, she dropped her hand onto Sherry’s shoulder.
“I’m leaving now,” Sherry said but she refused to move, enjoying the feel of Pat’s hand where it was.
“Good.” Pat smiled warmly at the point guard. “You played a good game tonight, Sherry.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to it without your help.”
“Just doing my job.”
“Well, it felt good,” Sherry said.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The women looked up to see the Eugene coach, Michael Palmer, standing just inside the locker room.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Pat snarled, her hand falling away from the player when she turned to face the other coach. “You know that this room is off limits.”
“Now I know why. I’ve warned the league about you and your kind,” the man shouted. “It’s disgusting that they let you near young women like her.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Pat shouted at the man who had been very vocal in his wish to ban all lesbians from the league-- players and coaches.
“I saw you. I saw what you were trying to do.”
“You didn’t see anything because there was nothing to see.”
Marcie ran into the locker room, followed by Kelley. Lizzie also ran in when she heard the angry voices.
“Get out of her, Palmer,” Marcie rushed up to the Eugene coach.
“Don’t try to protect her,” the man fought Marcie’s attempts to force him out of the room. “You can’t deny what she was doing.”
“I can deny it ‘cause I’m sure it never happened if you’re saying it did,” Marcie grunted, digging her heels in and pushing the man towards the doorway.
“Nothing happened,” Sherry cried, jumping to her feet, ready to defend Pat no matter what. “Nothing.”
With Kelley’s help, Marcie was beginning to have some success in moving the irrational man out of the room.
“I’m going straight to Mac. I told her you were nothing but trouble. Now I have the proof.”
“Nothing happened,” Pat yelled at the coach. “But if you want to tell Mac all about it, I’m sure she’s in her office.”
“Get the hell out of here, you stupid fool,” Kelley shoved the man out into the corridor.
Pat slumped against the wall as soon as her accuser had been forced out of the room and the door slammed shut behind him.
“Pat?” Sherry whispered.
“Now what?” Marcie dropped into a chair, exhausted from her struggle with the other coach.
“Anyone know what he was here for?” Pat asked.
“Didn’t think to ask,” Kelley grumbled, rubbing her arm where a bruise was forming.
“Well someone probably should go see if they needed something,” Pat blew out a long breath.
“To hell with them,” Lizzie said. “What are you going to do about him and Mac?”
“What?” Kelley, Lizzie and Sherry all asked at the same time.
“Coach, you can’t just let him go to Mac with his lies,” Kelley said.
“Mac knows he’s a bigoted, homophobic, idiot,” Pat looked at Sherry who appeared to be on the verge of tears. “Go home,” she said softly.
“Go home. You did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. Mac will know that. The most he can do is spread some more of his hate-filled rantings around the league.”
“I’ve yet to figure out why he even coaches women’s basketball considering how he feels,” Marcie sighed. “Geez, if he hates lesbians so much why surround himself with them?”
“Who knows,” Lizzie muttered. “Pat, what do you plan to do?”
“I’ll try to give Mac a call. Maybe I can catch her before he gets up there,” Pat pushed off the wall. “Go home. It’ll be okay,” she told Sherry again before walking for her office.
“She’s right, Sherry,” Kelley smiled sadly at the player. “It’s not the first time someone’s accused her of being a lesbian.”
“Sure won’t be the last either,” Lizzie snickered.
“Mac knew she was when she hired her so it’s not going to be any life shattering outing. She’ll be okay.”
“But nothing was going on,” Sherry said, her voice cracking.
“We know,” Marcie chimed in. “Pat’s no fool. She would never try anything with a player.”
“Come on,” Lizzie walked up to Sherry. “I’ll give you a ride. This night has been long enough for all of us.”
“Shit,” Marcie muttered after Lizzie led Sherry out of the locker room.
“You can say that again,” Kelley said.
“Let’s go wait with Pat.”
“Are we leaving or what?” Dawn asked when Mandy scurried back behind her desk. She didn’t want Marcie and Kelley to see she’d been listening at the door.
“Yes,” Mandy said, opening a desk drawer. “Just need to get my car keys.”
“Dawn?” Kelley looked questioningly at the player sitting in the office area. “Is there a problem?”
“No problem, ladies,” Mandy said, standing. “We’re leaving.”
“Trouble,” Kelley mumbled, watching the pair leave.
“With a capital T,” Marcie added, pushing the door to Pat’s office open.
“My, my, my,” Mandy giggled, turning the key in the car’s ignition.
“What?” Dawn asked.
“Do you think there’s something going on between Pat and Sherry?”
“I care,” Mandy snapped. “Do you?”
“Who cares?” Dawn repeated turning her head to look out the window as Mandy jammed her foot against the gas pedal, spinning tires as they left the parking lot.
Continued in Part 10
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