Let me make one point from the very beginning of this blog post: I am not an emotional person. Never have been, pretty sure I never will be.
That being said, I almost broke down in tears after the Bridgeport girls basketball team lost the ‘AAA' State Championship to Greenbrier East.
Let's go back to the beginning. In the 2011 High School Basketball State Tournament Bridgeport lost to eventual three-peat champion North Marion. After the win, Huskies' Head Coach Mike Parrish said loud and clear in a radio interview that Bridgeport was a very good team and his pick to win it all in 2012. I used that in several sportscasts pertaining to girls high school basketball. When a coach with three-straight state championship speaks, people listen and Coach Parrish was right…almost.
I thought the same thing about Bridgeport in the 2010-2011 season. I literally remember thinking, "This team is good. Too bad North Marion is better. Maybe next year."
The Lady Indians lost a close one to Morgantown in December. There was no other loss until the state championship game. That is undoubtedly because of Bridgeport's talent and chemistry.
You've got junior Miki Glenn, who anyone in the stands can see is the best player on the court. Miki drives the ball into the paint like it's her job but she is just as likely to kick the ball to one of her teammates. She is by no means a selfish player and Glenn gets embarrassed when you try to ask her to talk about herself. Miki finished in the top five in player of the year voting and captains the All-State First Team. Both honors are well deserved.
Courtney Small and Amanda Marshall were the Tribe's go-to outside shooters. Bridgeport took more three pointers at the state tournament than any other team, by far. Small also became the all-time three point shooter in Harrison County this season.
Kalie Hadsell is the type of player the coaches who run a balanced offense dream about. She's got the size, and skill, of an inside player but if you left her open from beyond the arc, she could hit the shot.
With all Bridgeport's offensive accomplishments, I'm not sure I've ever met a basketball team that prides itself on defense as much as the Lady Indians. Anytime I interviewed players or Coach Marshall, they had a smooth way of turning a question about the offense into an explanation of how the defense makes things work (really, that's a talent). We're talking all the time here. Preseason, in season, post game of the state tournament, it didn't matter. Bridgeport wanted to talk about its offense. The best way to confirm Bridgeport's theory about defense leading the team? Talk to any opposing coach. During post game press conferences at the state tournament, each coach that had won and was moving on to face Bridgeport mentioned the Indians' defense. Each and every one. They were mentioning it because they were scared of it.
Now, let's get to the heartbreaking part. One can assume that a team that prides itself on defense, is a hard working team. No statement has even been more true about the Bridgeport girls basketball team. Each and every one of those girls gave 110% from the time they were allowed to step onto the court until the time they had to carry the runner-up trophy off of it. (I'm not saying Greenbrier East is talented and/or hardworking, I just know Bridgeport better.)
To see the time I'd covered all year get so close to a championship was amazing. Bridgeport led for most of the game but in the end, couldn't overcome some fundamental differences between themselves and Greenbrier East. Miki Glenn tried and tried to drive. The Spartans had a 6'6" center. A player can only trying and throw the ball over her hands so many times before the center realizes what's happening. Also, shots were falling like crazy for Bridgeport in the first half. No such luck in the second half. It was a good game from start to finish and no matter the outcome, I was proud to see Bridgeport in that position.
Coach Dave Marshall and his players were humble in victory and defeat. There was literally no difference between the press conferences following the Robert C. Byrd and Wheeling Park games, than the one following the Greenbrier East loss.
High school girls will always be emotional, especially after losing the state championship, but I really sympathized with this team. Mostly because I've covered it pretty extensively for two years now. Teenage girls will get emotional but it's not every year you see a coach almost break down in tears. That's what got me.
The thing with Coach Marshall is that every girl on the team is like a daughter to him. They truly are. Amanda Marshall is his daughter so he's watched every athlete on the team grow-up right alongside his daughter. He was very emotional following the loss. That's where I got emotional.
99% of coaches have a special bond with their team. Most of them are seen as a father/mother figure. That is not only how Dave Marshall felt about his team, it's how they felt about him. Anyone could see that plain as day. That's exactly why I almost turned into a blubbering mess at a press conference (I did hold it together).
All in all, it was a pleasure to cover this team. Every one of the players is a special young lady. Not one of them ever acted arrogant or unruly. They are all descent people and have left a good mark on the Bridgeport girls basketball program.