No. 3: Resilient Lady Busters win record 29

12/30/2013

Editor's Note:This is the eighth in a series of 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.

Editor's Note:This is the eighth in a series of 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.

BY J. LEVI BURNFIN

lburnfin@gctelegram.com

From the outside, Garden City Community College's 2012-13 women's basketball season was a dream. But for the players and coaches on the team, it very easily could have turned into a nightmare.

The Lady Broncbusters got off to the best start in program history, going 14-0 in non-conference play, and opening conference play in January with a triple-overtime win over Butler to improve to 15-0.

The Lady Busters finally lost their first game of the season on Jan. 7 — at then No. 2 Hutchinson — but they lost something much more important just days later when four players were dismissed from the team, including starters Jessica Goble and Shicole Watts, who were combining for 22.6 points per game at the time, an exodus many teams could not overcome.

At that point, the once promising season could have ended in disaster. The Lady Busters were down to only seven rostered players, and without three vital rotation players.

But after backup Nicole Young returned to the team, and with four eventual Division I signees, including NJCAA All-American Tamara Jones, and the winningest coach in program history Alaura Sharp, the Lady Busters continued to win, posting a program record 29 wins by the time the season ended, making their run the No. 3 Telegram sports story of 2013.

"We had a lot less room for error," Sharp said in a telephone interview a week ago about the removal of the four players from the team. "But we decided to come together as a team..."

Come together they did.

The Lady Busters went 5-2 in the seven games following their loss to Hutchinson, and before the rematch with the Lady Dragons, this time with the Lady Dragons the top-ranked team in the nation, and at the Perryman Athletic Complex.

Trailing for most of the night, the Lady Busters showed the same resilience that pushed them past losing two starters in the middle of the season.

Down 55-52 with 20 seconds to play, Jones was fouled on a missed 3-pointer, sending her to the line with the chance to tie the game.

With nerves of steel, Jones drained all three, sending the match to overtime.

In overtime, it was again clutch free throws, this time a pair by guard Mikell Chinn with five seconds left, that sent the fans rushing to the floor as they stormed the court to celebrate the 64-62 win, the first win over a top-ranked team in program history.

"To be able to beat the No. 1 team in the country on our home floor will be something that stays with me for a long time," Sharp said a week ago.

Jones was just as reminiscent immediately following the win.

"This is the greatest feeling ever," she said. "It's just a game, but the fact that it's the No. 1 team makes it feel that much better."

The win propelled the Lady Busters to a nine-game winning streak, including wins over Cloud County in two overtimes, and two home wins in the Region VI Tournament opening rounds, completing a perfect 16-0 at-home record, the best in program history.

Alas, the dream season would not have a fairytale ending.

Chinn twisted her ankle in the final 10 minutes of play against Cowley in the Region VI semis in Wichita, leaving the already short-benched Lady Busters without their hardwood quarterback.

The Lady Tigers went on a 24-10 run to close out the game for the 68-51 win, ending the Lady Busters' season early.

"I still think back to what we could have done to maybe keep the lead and maybe come out with the win, and maybe things we should have done but didn't do," Jones remembered in a telephone interview a week ago.

The loss didn't officially end the Lady Busters' season as they still had a slim chance of being an at-large selection for the national tournament. But that hope did not materialize, and the Lady Busters' record-setting season was over sooner than expected. But it wasn't the loss that disappointed Sharp the most.

"It was more than disappointing when our season did kind of come to a close — it wasn't necessarily not winning a (conference) title, or getting a bid to the national tournament — what was more disappointing was that, personally, I would never be able to coach that team again," she said. "And they would never be able to play with each other again."

Through trial and tribulation, the team that finished the season grew together like few teams do.

"I think the thing I'll remember the most were the teammates that I had, and the bonds that I had with some of them," Jones said.

"They were just a very special group," Sharp said.

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