By Rob Kiser
COLUMBUS — The tears in the interview room after Versailles 53-47 loss to Africentric in the Division III girls basketball state championship game Saturday at the Schottenstein Center from seniors Danielle Winner and Kami McEldowney were not so much about losing the game — as much as they were about saying goodbye to their basketball “family”.
Winner and McEldowney — along with Ellen Peters, Hailey McEldowney and Mallory Marshal played their final basketball game for the Tigers Saturday — and what a career it has been.
The seniors finished with over 100 wins on the basketball floor — to put that in perspective, there are only 88 regular season games in a four-year period.
“I can’t even tell you the last time a Versailles athlete had 100 wins,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “And it is not just basketball — whether it is track, softball, cross country, volleyball — you name it — these girls have had a lot of success.”
Winner and McEldowney were part of the team that won a state championship as freshman — and were state runnerup the last two years. They, along with Peters and Marshall were also part of the volleyball team that won a Division III state title this fall.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Winner said about playing in the state championship game three times in four years. “I know I have one sister (Lindsey Winner) on the team, but they are all my sisters. We are like family.”
And it should have come as no surprise with Versailles trailing by double digits in the third quarter, McEldowney literally willed the team back into the game. She hit three 3-pointers and hit another that was waived off because of an offensive foul and the Tigers came all the way back to take a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“That’s just what you have to do,” McEldowney said. “You can’t ever give up. This team wasn’t going to quit.”
And while a few failed possessions at the end — along with a great opponent — didn’t lead to a state title, as always it was a championship effort from Versailles.
And like last year, took a monumental effort to stop them.
“These two (Kami McEldowney, Danielle Winner) were part of the team that won threeyears ago,” Stonebraker said. “They did everything they could to get us back here — and they did. But, it was just them (in the senior class). Mallory Marshal is such a great kid. She has great hands and really pushing everyone in practice.
“Hailey McEldowney, what a great kid and a great teammate. I can’t say enough about her. And Ellen Peters — we are really going to miss her defense next year. She plays with so much heart.”
And juniors Elizabeth Ording and Kelsey Custenborder — along with sophomores Lindsey Winner, Caitlin McEldowney and Danielle Kunk — along with another 20-plus win season from the JV team —flashed throughout the season the bright future for Versailles girls basketball.
And while it has always hard to say goodbye to the seniors, it may be a little tougher this year.
“These girls (seniors) have been playing together for eight years,” Stonebraker said. “They played as much basketball as they could. They all love each other. That is what made this group so special and fun to coach.”
And they leave the “family” as champions — no matter what the scoreboard read at the end of the game.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.