"It's all the heart you have:" Washington Township girls persevere with a roster of six
UNION MILLS -- South Central's certified athletic trainer came up to Addie Graf of Washington Township after Wednesday's game and handed her an ice bag.
The Senators sophomore didn't ask for it, but she just kind of figured.
"It feels good," Graf said after playing all 32 minutes. "Depending on the night, how many times I fall my butt, it usually hurts a lot."
If there's a poster team for the 2020-21 girls basketball season, it's got to be Washington Township. The Senators, all six of them, have managed to make it through 15 games, posting an 8-7 record despite their limited personnel.
"We came in the first practice, it was like, there can't be drama, we only have five people. If we have drama, we're done," Graf said. "We had five, then our freshman, Sarah Boby, came back from an ACL injury in early December. At least one of us gets to sub every few minutes. It helps. We all know we have to play hard if we want to win. I'm super proud of the heart we all come out with."
For the team, there was never a question of whether they'd have a season. Already walking a tightrope, they've been able to avoid COVID-19 issues, as well as ending up with less than five players on the court at any point.
"We came in the first practice, it was like, there can't be drama, we only have five people. If we have drama, we're done," Graf said. "We actually haven't had to play with four. We've been close though. I fouled out in the fourth quarter against Kouts. We just try to be safe and smart about it."
Assistant coach Tony Lopez, who filled in for head coach Mike DeHaven when he missed a few games after testing positive, remembered the pre-season conversation when they all realized the challenge that lied ahead.
"There were some issues with other people," Lopez said. "We said, well, if you guys don't recruit anybody, this is what we're going with. None of you can foul out or get injured. We tell them, you've got three fouls, it's like, OK, you've got to play smart, you can't play as aggressive. That all goes hand in hand with their heart and their love for playing the game. We've got probably the best six kids, in my eyes, who actually want to be there, who want to play and want to compete. Their heart is ridiculous. Coach DeHaven and I could not be more proud."
Lopez joked about how they harp on the girls about conditioning all the time, but also realizes they can only push them so far, knowing how much they have to play in games.
"They're like oh, do we have to run?" Lopez said. "We tell then, well, do you want to be dead in the game? I think we've found the fine line. The only thing we can do at the end of a game is tell them you've got to go home and take care of your bodies because we're going to have come back and do it again tomorrow."
While the starting five of Mikaela Armstrong, Jocelynn Ewing, Andie Graf and Josie Whitcomb all rarely leave the floor, it's Addie Graf who typically goes the full 32 since she's Washington's best ball handler.
"Usually I do, depending on the team we play," she said.
How do you feel afterward?
"Exhausted," Graf said.
Not that she's complaining.
"For me, I love being on this court all the time," Graf said. "We get a break after. Sometimes, you have, but I hate getting subbed out. It's the heart that you have."
Graf scored 25 of the Senators' 33 points in the loss to South Central, but she already had the respect of Satellites coach Wes Bucher and his team, which needed a big second half the last time the teams played to pull away for the win.
"I know that they're great girls," Bucher said. "I had Addie in class at Morgan Township. I know Makayla's a wonderful girl. We play them in the summer quite a bit. They just love the fact that they're playing. You can't teach that. You need people who love it, who buy in. I admire Mike. He's a great coach. He's a very personable guy. He gets every ounce out of the girls out there on the court. It's unfortunate for them they don't have two or three more people. They could be decent if they had one more scoring threat."
Graf averages 15 points per game with Armstrong just under 10, accounting for over 70 percent of the team's scoring.
"She and Makayla, that's the one-two punch," Lopez said. "When we're rotating the ball really well and are all shooting well, we get good points all around."
Thankfully, the team gets along well, considering the tough circumstances.
"We're really close," Graf said. "We like to have fun, mess around, but we know when it comes time to be serious. Sometimes, it shows on the court that we're just a bunch of friends. Throughout the day, we all walk in the hallway together, we all talk to each other. We see each other a lot and we never get irritated with each other somehow. We always try to lift each other up. The season's been really fun. I feel like this is the closest team I've ever had. They're like my second family."