Real growing pains
By JEFF LUND
February 25, 2014
In the shadows of the “Fab 5” as the five starters are called by some fans, is the Klawock girls team which on game night plays undercard to Tyrus Morgan’s dunks, Sam Rew’s pure stroke and Dylan George’s grit.
Three starters from last year’s girls squad are playing college basketball this year, leaving the Chieftains without the high-scoring studs that led the girls to their own impressive wins over 4A teams last season.
The burden of expectation fell on the two remaining starters Jill Carl and Sierra Giebel, who were the vital role players on last year’s juggernaut, and a collection of players with more heart than experience.
Last year Jill and Sierra started on the team which outscored their four opponents 274-117 at the state tournament, but had to settle for fourth thanks to a 46-37 second round loss to the eventual state champ.
“I was expecting to win state,” says Jill. “For two years [the town] had been expecting us to win state but it ended up being a disappointment.”
The education in heartbreak was only beginning.
This volleyball season the Chieftains came within two points of beating another eventual champion, but came up short in an epic 5-game state semi-finals match.
A new season only brought forth more frustration.
Lacking the firepower from the previous year, the basketball team struggled early and though the entire roster showed improvement week to week, the losses added up. As frustrating and new the feeling of loss was, the girls stuck with it, perhaps knowing that no one looks back at their high school athletic careers and says, “I’m so glad I gave up.”
But anterior cruciate ligaments gave out.
Within a two-week span both Jill and Sierra suffered season-ending ACL tears. Not that you’d wish an injury on anyone, but if the universe owed payback to a pair of girls, it probably isn’t these two honor students. The junior duo is now doing something worse than losing itself, watching from the sideline.
“This year was a struggle getting used to not having the three seniors around and having to adjust to being a leader,” says Sierra. “It's very upsetting not being able to finish out the season and see how far we could have gone.”
Sierra had her surgery Feb. 11, and Jill talks about her upcoming procedure matter-of-factly, like she’s going in for a flu shot. She just wants to get the recovery started.
“One thing that bothers me most, is all of a sudden I just want to go for a run and I can’t. I’ve never been so inactive,” she says.
Injuries can just as bad on the report card as the body and some would be tempted to use them as excuses to let grades slide but these two are determined to not let their plight be an excuse.
“Being able to keep up with my grades has been very difficult,” says Sierra who missed school to travel south for her surgery. “I’m used to going in every day after school for at least two hours and getting help so I have really had to try and figure things out on my own. My grades will be fine though, I work hard to make sure I don't fall too far behind.”
As much as we’d like the ease of it, we aren’t given courage or character. We are instead provided circumstances which shape character, good or bad. It’s not about why it happened, it’s about how we respond - stay with it, or quit.
We all ask, hope, wish or pray for success but get reality. Teams don’t plead to suffer through loss-plagued seasons, but when you lace them up, sometimes that’s what you get. When all you have to battle is the temptation to gloat at the riotous success you are enjoying, you’ve got it good.
When you’re limping like Jill and Sierra through one of those “learning moments” life drops on you without warning, nothing is easy but that’s where true courage and grit is born - opportunities masked by misery no one asks for. The real growing pains.
Their story, and the story of role players becoming leaders mid-season at the turn of a knee, will continue to play out in front of an intimate audience of friends and family instead of the athletic spotlight. Their final score will not be quantifiable, same goes for teams across the state. Instead it will be measured with ambiguous terms like character. And while the brand of courage to stick with it through losses and injuries pales in comparison to the courage needed to muster strength when life kicks your teeth in, it’s a brand of courage nonetheless.
“I am going to come out of this so much stronger mentally and physically than I was before,” says Sierra. “I was very dedicated to my sports before but I think in a way this makes me even more dedicated to show people that I will come back from this and have a great season of volleyball and basketball next year.”
When a kid says something like that, you know they’ll make it.
They’ll all make, Jill, Sierra, the whole team.
But it won’t be easy. It never is.
Jeff Lund ©2014
Jeff Lund is a Teacher and Freelance Writer living in Klawock, Alaska