Kelley firmly closed the door between the locker room and the coaches’ offices, blocking out the rambunctious noise of the Cougar players.
“Is everyone here?” Sherry asked not looking up from tying her shoes.
“Yes. Here, dressed, and ready to get on the court.”
Sherry straightened in her chair. “I’ll sure be glad to get this game behind us.”
“You don’t think Miami will give us trouble, do you?”
“No. It’s just nice to get the first game that counts out of the way.”
Glancing at Pat’s closed office door, Kelley sat down at her desk. “Coach in her office?”
“She’s in the weight room.”
“You still mad at her?” Kelley asked. Since the discussion about Jackson, both Pat and Sherry had seldom referred to the rookie except when coaching duties required it.
“I never was mad at her,” Sherry replied leaning back into her chair. “I know she was only looking out for me… I just didn’t like the way she was planning to go about it.”
Kelley remained silent for a few moments. “Have you figured out Jackson yet?”
“I haven’t a clue… I honestly can’t remember any time our paths crossed.”
“I guess you’ll just have to wait until she reveals it.”
Sherry shook her head. “Nope… I plan to go on the offensive. I figure the only time we could have met was in college, so I’m going to go through everything I have from back then.”
Kelley laughed. “You make it sound like it was ages ago.”
“Some days it seems like that it was,” Sherry said with a grin. “I’ve got some old game schedules in a box at home. This weekend, I’m going to pull them out and see if there was ever a game between her school and mine. Next time, she tries to tell me we’ve got a past, I’m going to hit right between the eyes with it.”
“That should catch her off guard,” Kelley said chuckling.
“I sure hope so.”
Both women looked toward the outer door when it opened.
“Are we ready?” Pat asked entering the room from the corridor. Like Sherry, she was dressed in her warm-ups with her game uniform on underneath.
“Ready when you are,” Kelley answered.
“Okay, ladies, settle down,” Pat said standing at the front of the Cougars’ locker room. She waited a few moments for the players to comply. “We have two things going for us tonight… first, we’re playing a team that spends most of their time at sea level and we’re playing at home.” She grinned. “Lucky for us, Miami flew in this morning and didn’t give themselves much time to adjust to the elevation here,” she said of the three thousand foot plus elevation difference between the two cities. We’re going to use that to our advantage… I want the ball to keep moving tonight; no one standing around looking for an opportunity; constant motion… up tempo. Let’s make them run. Pete, Sherry, push the ball up court on every possession.”
“Got it, Coach,” Sherry and Pete responded in unison.
“Don’t get lazy out there. Remember Miami has a point to prove… And that brings me to the second advantage we have over Miami… we better than them.” Many of the players agreed loudly. “Expect them to double team Sherry or even collapse three defenders on her if she’s around the key,” she continued when the players quieted. “Find your open teammates and get the ball to them. Box out on the boards… we’re taller than Miami at the post so there’s no reason we shouldn’t control rebounding at both ends tonight.” Pat looked up at the clock on the wall behind her. “Okay, let’s get out there and get warmed up.”
“Start running ladies,” Kelley barked at the players. “From this point forward, I don’t want to see anyone dogging it.”
Pete and Val lead the team out of the locker room and down the corridor toward the arena floor. Trotting behind them, Pat, Sherry, and Kelley followed the players out of the tunnel.
Seeing their home team emerge, the sellout crowd began to cheer.
As soon as Pat came into view, a chant of Kodak, Kodak, Kodak started. She smiled at the nickname earned when she had become the first local player to be named a Kodak Collegiate All American. As she joined the other players in warm up drills, the chant quickly grew in volume.
Waiting for their turns to run down the key for a lay-up, Sherry yelled at Pat, “If they keep this up, we’ll have to issue ear plugs at half time.”
Pat grinned. “I like it.”
Sherry laughed. “No doubt,” she said catching a pass from Jade. She charged down the key to execute a perfect lay-up.
“Sure gets your blood flowing, doesn’t it,” Pete asked falling into line behind her coach.
“They’ve waited a long time for this.”
Pat nodded. “So have I,” she said seriously. She grabbed the pass directly at her and took off down the key; then tossed the ball up to kiss off the backboard before dropping through the net.
The crowd erupted, the volume of cheering becoming so loud that the Miami players stopped their own warm-up drills to look around for the reason behind them.
A buzzer sounded announcing the end to warm-ups. As her players ran for their bench, Pat headed to the scorers’ table where the game’s three officials were waiting for the two coaches.
“Good to see you again, Madge,” Pat greeted the Miami coach with a smile and offered handshake.
Coach Polson returned the handshake but not the smile. “You got lucky last time, Calvin,” she said curtly.
Pat’s smiled broadened. “Did we?” She turned away from Polson to greet the officials.
“Let’s have a clean game tonight, ladies,” one of the officials told the coaches.
Pat nodded. “That’s my intention, Janis.”
“Good luck to both of you,” another official said before the trio moved out onto the court.
Without further comment, Polson hurried to her team’s bench.
Pat rejoined her own team to await the introductions of both starting lineups.
As expected, the home team crowd cheered loudly when each Cougar starter was announced then booed just as loudly when the corresponding Miami player was named. Realizing Pat would not be a starter, the chant of Kodak, Kodak, Kodak started up again.
The Cougar starters huddled around their coach with the rest of the players.
“Keep it clean,” Pat told her players, “but make them work for it.” She held her hand out and it was instantly covered by the players’ hands.
“Cougars,” the team members shouted.
“Let’s go,” Pat yelled above the crowd noise.
Leading the starters back onto the court, Sherry ran to her position midway between the circle at mid-court and the top of the key at the Cougar end of the floor.
Pete took up a similar position on the opposite side of the circle while Val and Tonie took positions around the circle. Terry stepped into the circle to await the tip-off.
One official was standing in front of the scorers table. After verifying the scorers were ready, she blew her whistle and pointed to Janis, the official in the circle holding the ball. Janis looked around noting the location of each player. “Ready?” she asked Terry then turned to the Miami player in the circle and repeated the question. After both players nodded, Janis lifted the ball to her chest, hesitated a second, then lobbed it straight up into the air.
Anticipating the ball toss, Terry leaped first. She tipped the ball over her opponent’s head and past another Miami player toward Sherry.
Sherry darted forward, capturing the ball before any Miami player could react. As soon as she controlled the ball, she spun around and charged for the basket.
Pete was already running at full speed down the side of the court.
One Miami player was racing to get between Sherry and the basket.
Pete cut toward the key forcing the Miami defender to choose who she wanted to guard.
The Miami player stayed with Sherry.
Reaching the top of the key, Sherry put on the brakes. Unable to react as quickly, the Miami defender flew past her. Left alone at the top of the key, she popped into the air and dropped a twelve foot jump shot cleanly through the rim.
The crowd doubled their cheers.
Second Half – Miami 62 – Cougars 75
Miami’s point guard dribbled across mid-court. As Pete closed in on her, she cut to the right.
Pete immediately changed course, keeping herself between the Miami player and the basket.
Hudson ran out to double team the guard and help Pete pin the Miami player against the side line.
Seeing her player was in danger of stepping out of bounds, the Miami coach screamed over the crowd noise, “Time!”
Whistles blew stopping play.
Pete and Hudson headed for their bench along with Ashley, Terry, and Dimchek.
“Great job,” Pat greeted her players, clapping her hands together enthusiastically. “Great job,” she repeated looking up at the game clock. “You ladies can take a rest,” she told the players who had been on the court. “Pete you’re staying in.”
Pete grinned. “I hope that means what I think it does, Coach.”
Pat smiled at the point guard. “If you think it means I’m going in, it does.”
Sherry, Tonie, and Latesha trotted back to the bench after informing the officials they would be returning to the game.
“We’ve got three minutes left,” Pat told her players. “Let’s keep the pressure up… lots of movement.”
“They look exhausted,” Kelley informed the head coach.
“That’s not our problem. I want them… and every other team in the league to know last year wasn’t a fluke. So they better be ready for us.”
“That’s right,” Pete said making a fist and bumping her knuckles against Tonie’s who was nodding in agreement.
“Coach, you better report,” Kelley warned Pat that the time out was about to expire then waited for her to trot to the scorers’ table. “Up tempo,” she reminded the four players waiting to return to the court. “Go on, get out there,” she sent the four onto the court where Pat joined them to the cheers of the crowd.
Miami’s point guard prepared to inbound the ball from the sideline.
Sherry took up a position guarding the inbound pass while her teammates took up positions guarding the other Miami players. When the whistle blew to start play, she started waving her arms and jumping up and down in front of the Miami guard.
Unable to locate any of her teammates in a position to accept a pass within the five second limit, the Miami player called time.
“Dammit,” Polson yelled at her point guard. “What’s wrong with you? That’s our last time out.”
“Nobody was open,” the point guard explained breathing heavily.
Pat kept her players on the court, huddling at the mid-court circle. She grinned at Sherry, “That was nice.”
“Sure was,” Tonie agreed slapping Sherry on the shoulder.
“Let’s keep up the man-to-man,” Pat told them. “Sherry, this time, back up a few feet… give some room to get the pass off. Keep your eyes open,” she told the others, “I want that ball.”
“You got it, Coach,” Pete said then backpedaled down the court to her position.
This time when the official started play, Sherry jumped up and down a few times then quickly backed off about ten feet.
Surprised by the sudden change, the Miami guard forced a pass to a teammate inside the key.
Seeing the ball floating in the air, Tonie reached out a long arm. In one smooth motion, she controlled the ball then flipped it toward the opposite end of the court.
Pat, Sherry, and Pete were already racing toward the Cougar basket.
Sherry reached the ball first and fired a bounce pass to Pete.
Pete immediately fired a bounce pass to Pat.
Pat flipped the ball behind her back to Sherry.
Sherry lofted the ball toward the basket.
Just before she reached the end of the court, Pat leaped up.
Hitting the rim, the ball rebounded into the air.
Pat tipped it back toward the basket where it dropped into the net.
The crowd, many already on the feet, erupted into deafening cheers.
Second half – ten seconds remaining – Miami 62 – Cougars 83
With one eye on the game clock and one eye on her teammates, Miami’s point guard dribbled in place at the top of the key. Try as they might, her teammates were having trouble getting any distance between themselves and the Cougars guarding them.
Sherry stood a few feet in front of the Miami guard waiting for her to make a move to the basket.
The Miami guard started forward.
Sherry held her ground letting the Miami player come to her.
A step in front of Sherry, the Miami guard jumped into the air.
Sherry made a swipe at the ball but missed.
The ball arced toward the basket, hit the front of the rim and rebounded high into the air. It dropped back down, hit the back of the rim then ricocheted away from the basket.
Latesha leaped up. Reaching above a Miami post player, she swatted the ball out of bounds just as the buzzer sounded announcing time had run out.
Leaving her players to celebrate their victory, Pat trotted to the sideline to exchange niceties with Polson. “Still think we were just lucky last year, Madge?” she asked wryly before again offering a smile and handshake.
“You have a good team, Pat,” Polson conceded grabbing the outstretched hand. “But don’t you think it’s a little much with you on the court? Did your ego finally get the best of you?” she asked harshly.
Pat laughed then leaned close so the exasperated coach could hear over the exuberant crowd. “It’s just a game, Madge. Don’t blow a gasket over it.”
Polson withdrew her hand. “It won’t be so easy next time,” she warned. “We’ll wipe that smile off your face.” She spun about to follow her team off the floor.
Pat watched Polson disappear into the corridor. “Bring it on,” she muttered.
“Problem?” Sherry asked joining the head coach.
“Sour grapes,” Pat responded. “Let’s get them into the locker room,” she said of the Cougar players still milling about the court congratulating each other. “We have Los Angeles to get ready for.”
Sherry nodded then left to round up the players.
Unenthusiastically, Pat headed across the floor to be interviewed by the group of sports reporters being contained in a corner of the arena.
To Be Continued...
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