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“Season of Believing” Especially Significant for Archers

March 27, 2013

Chanese Washington  
Chanese Washington joined the Archers in January and contributed to a run to the NJCAA Women's Division II Basketball Tournament.

There is little doubt about where this year’s women’s basketball team would rank talent-wise and depth-wise among Shelly Ethridge’s last three STLCC teams. In each of the previous two years, Ethridge’s teams possessed more raw ability and fanfare, complete with 20 or more wins entering the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Basketball Tournament.

But it was this year’s team, complete with just nine players – many of whom saw limited action prior to midseason – that collected the program’s first national tournament victory under Ethridge and assistant coach Melanie Marcy.

“We went there knowing we had an opportunity to go farther than any team before,” Marcy said. “And not because this team is any better than others, but we were pushing and we were really trying to get players to believe, and they really got us to believe in what they could do.”

With a 77-67 victory over Chesapeake Community College in their first consolation matchup, the Archers had attained that elusive tournament win.

“We had a lot of things going against each other, and in our second game, from the tip, there were no nerves and they weren’t going to lose that game,” Marcy said.

At the season’s outset, few would have been surprised if the Archers made a deep run in the NJCAA Tournament. With nine returning sophomores from last year’s national tournament run and a stable of quality freshman guards, the Archers began this season loaded for bear. But that was before midseason, when more than half of the team’s scoring contribution was lost to injury and defection. Left with nine players, including second-semester transfer Chanese Washington (Mehlville), the Archers initially struggled with the transition, losing five of six at one point.

However, as the calendar turned to February, the Archers put together a most impressive late-season push to reach the national tournament.

Beginning Jan. 30, the Archers won eight of 10, including six in a row preceding the NJCAA tourney opener.

They won at home. They won on the road. They beat nationally-ranked teams when it mattered most, like their come-from-behind, 63-55 victory over North Arkansas College in the District P playoff. North Arkansas entered the game ranked 12th nationally.

“It’s all about the kids,” Ethridge said after the win over North Arkansas. “When you have kids believing in each other, in themselves and in their coaching staff, positive things happen for us.”

Their performance of the final month bore no resemblance to the fractured, struggling team of a few weeks prior.

“I just think everything came together at the right time for us,” Marcy said. “Will these players be able to fight through this adversity? It was a matter of coming together at the right time. We had kids brimming with confidence.”

That confidence helped the Archers perform at their best at the most crucial juncture of the year, and saw contributions from players who saw little time early in the season. Sophomores Kelsey Brock (Fort Zumwalt East) and Lauren Fischer (Rockwood Summit) saw their roles expand tremendously late in the season, as well as Chanel Gwynn-Williams (Hazelwood West), who became a reliable post presence along with sophomore holdovers Paige Laird (Wesclin) and Lauren Maclin (Ladue).

Sophomore guard Kirstie Owen (Salem, Ill.) shouldered much of the load of stabilizing the Archers backcourt. However, it was the infusion of Washington and the emergence of freshman Kalah Martin (Kirkwood)  that helped the Archers attain postseason success unseen in recent times.

Washington and Martin rarely left the court in the final weeks, doubling as the team’s two most explosive players at each end of the floor.

Though their season ended two days after their win over Chesapeake, the postseason run the Archers achieved not only elevated the status of the STLCC women’s basketball program, but also left an indelible mark on the players who made the vision become a reality.

“These will be life-changing moments for some of these kids,” Marcy said. “When a team goes through what this one went through, they have a resolve that you just can’t shake. They stepped up and performed in ways they may have not even known they were capable of.”