Freshman guard Jada Williams surpassed the 500-point mark and lived up to all the preseason hype that comes when a phenom enters a high school basketball program.
Seniors Aliyah Bello and Jayla Sample believed a dream season was within their grasp and veteran Blue Springs girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli said early on that if his Wildcats lived up to his expectations, this would be a season to remember.
And he was right.
The Wildcats defeated Lee’s Summit West 68-58 in a sectional playoff and previously undefeated Liberty 51-41 in a Class 5 state quarterfinal, only to see their dreams of playing in the state final four dashed when the Missouri State High School Activities Association canceled all remaining games because of concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“I found out about it before our practice Monday,” Spigarelli said, “and our girls were all excited … and were ready to get out on the court and I had to tell them the final four had been canceled.”
Much like it would have been, had they been playing this Friday in the final four in Springfield, the players were still together, enjoying each other’s company.
“We’re all chilling and trying to have some fun so we don’t have to think about our careers at Blue Springs High School being over,” Bello said. “I love my girls so much, we were all looking forward to state and winning our school’s first championship.
“But it’s not going to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it, and now, we just have to look back and enjoy all the good things that happened, especially late in the season.”
Senior Jayla Sample agreed.
“It was so crazy and we had so many distractions going into the Liberty game because we didn’t know where it would be played or if it would be played,” Sample said, referring to the game being moved from Silverstein Eye Centers Arena to Blue Springs South High School, with just 25 to 30 fans allowed from each school.
“But we were able to stay focused and played one of our best games of the season. As a senior, I’m proud to say we won our last high school game. We just wish it would have been at the final four, so everyone would have known we were the best team in the state.”
For Williams, the high school grind was something new, and she excelled – as her 22-point performance in the state quarterfinal win gave her 509 points on the season and a 17.6 scoring average.
“I owe everything to my teammates and my coaches,” said Williams, whose skill and humble approach to high school made her a big hit with her teammates. “Our coaches get us ready to play and my girls pass me the ball and set picks and do all the little things that are so important to winning.
“I am so disappointed we didn’t get to go to state because I believe that right now, we are the best team in the state. I think we proved that the way we have been playing. I am so happy my seniors can say they won their last high school game, but they deserved to play in the final four and that’s not going to happen.”
When Spigarelli notified his players that the state championships had been canceled, his Wildcats surprised Spigarelli with an unusual request.
“After the hugs and the tears, they asked if we could still practice,” he said. “They had just learned their season was over – no final four – and they still wanted to practice.”
“So, we practiced! And it was great. If they missed a layup, they ran a lap, just like a regular practice. It showed what this season had meant to our girls and what each of the girls meant to each other, and to our coaches. They are great players, and even greater kids.
“It was tough on them and tough on me and our coaches. We understand it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Our girls overcame so many distractions to beat Lee’s Summit West, a team we lost to twice in the regular season, and Liberty, who was undefeated.
“We got off to great starts in each game and played the type of great basketball we’d been playing at the end of the season. Jada was just outstanding, and all our girls took their games to new levels.
“I think Aliyah’s defense in the postseason was the best basketball she has played in the past four years and that type of defense inspired all her teammates. It was just a great team effort, and now, the season is over.
“I’m going to miss them.”