by John Unrein
The pulse of a program can often be defined by how much student athletes enjoy practice. Tears that were withheld by the Grain Valley Lady Eagles after their 54-32 second round Class 6 District 14 tournament loss on March 1st were in part due to just that. The thought of not getting to see friends and a coaching staff that had become part of a fond routine tested their emotions. Seniors Jordyn Weems and Gabbi Keim along with sophomore Grace Slaughter were among those exchanging goodbyes outside the locker room after the game.
“We gave it our all. This has been wonderful to be a part of this team. I cannot wait to see how far this group goes next year. My coaches and teammates have taught me so much and we have grown together,” Weems said.
“I will miss practice the most. We got after it every single day. It was not something we took lightly.”
Keim added, “The whole senior thing has not struck me until right now. It showed up at the end of the game and hit me like ‘bam.’ Practice is something that I will miss. This team and the community that has been created is amazing and makes me feel like I have been here all along. I don’t know why I wasn’t here before,” Keim said with wry smile that drew laughter from those around here. The Missouri migrant from Wisconsin has been a big part of the Lady Eagles success this season.
“We knew going into this game that Blue Springs has a great team. That is why they were the number one seed in this tournament. We fought hard at various points of the game to keep the score close and competed hard,” Slaughter said.
“Blue Springs knows their roles and executes them well. We kept this game close until it got away from us in the fourth quarter. This game was a learning experience for us. You learn every time you compete.”
“I have enjoyed my two years with this senior class. Their leadership has been special. I did not know what to expect as a freshman joining this team with how I would be treated by the upperclassman. They have been the best and our relationships will last past high school. Getting to see them at practice was great. That will be missed.”
Grain Valley on three separate occasions kept the game close, demonstrating resolve. Sophomore guard Cameryn Bown nailed a three point shot with 2:31 left in the first quarter that brought her team within two points of Blue Springs by a score of 8-6. Slaughter would be the next to step up for the Lady Eagles. Gathering a rebound under the opponent’s basket and going coast to coast for a layup as time expired going into halftime was one of Slaughter’s biggest contributions. It brought her team within 4 points heading into the locker room by a score of 19-15.
Freshman point guard McKenah Sears provided the last big salvo for Grain Valley with 6:24 left in the game. Her made basket from behind the arc brought the Blue Springs lead back to single digits by a score of 35-26. The Lady Eagles bench sprang to their feet cheering with the hope that there would be enough time left for one final run. In the end, the athleticism, made free throws, and execution by the Wildcats was too much to overcome. Turnovers and missed shots also took their toll throughout the game for Grain Valley.
Sophomore Jada Williams and junior Ja’Cole Johnson were the Wildcats leading scorers with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Both were able to take advantage of finding driving lanes and shooting opportunities against the 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones deployed by Grain Valley Lady Eagles head coach Randy Draper. Slaughter would lead all scorers in the game with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Draper was pleased with the toughness demonstrated by his team after the game.
“I was pleased with us. We guarded them the way we needed to. The ball did not want to go in at times and some of that is them (Blue Springs) with the way they guarded us. They are a really good defensive team and sometimes when you have to work super hard to get open, it makes getting a basket that much harder,” Draper said.
“Our shot selection was good. There were several good things we did in the game. I did not want us to have to stretch our defense and chase them. That was not going to be good for us, and it wasn’t.”
Draper concluded, “This senior group is great. Keim was the most seamless transfer (student) I have ever seen. Gabbi (Keim), Malia (Gutierrez), and Jordyn (Weems) played this game with great joy and it rubbed off on our program. I like to think that has provided an atmosphere where people want to go to practice and get better.”
Grain Valley finishes their season with a 14-7 record. The growth of a young a Lady Eagles squad continued to emerge in February as the team won five of the seven games they played during the month. Draper and his team will miss the group of graduating seniors and assistant coach Pete Carpino, who is retiring at the end of this school year after being a respected voice on the Grain Valley bench.
Grace Slaughter completes a layup prior to time expiring in the second quarter.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Left to right: Senior Jordyn Weems, Sophomore Grace Slaughter, and Senior Gabbi Keim
Photo credit: Valley News staff