Memories created at Women’s MSHS Alumni Game

By FRED KRONER
The uniforms with numbers were replaced by colored T-shirts, some orange and some blue.
The scoreboard clock started with 12 minutes showing and didn’t stop — unless there was a timeout — until the total time had elapsed.
The referees were not there as a courtesy. Two of the men who worked the just-completed varsity game returned to officiate Saturday’s girls’ basketball Alumni Game at Mahomet-Seymour High School.
The players had to feel right at home. Fans in the stands got into the event with good-natured ribbing and enthusiastic cheering.
After the introductions, public address announcer Nathan  Seal — who generally has the role of M-S girls’ basketball head coach — let everyone know, “the trainers will be sticking around for a while in case anyone sprains an ankle.”
“You playing half-court,” wondered one spectator as the ball was about to be put in play.
The expectation for the 16 former Bulldogs who signed in — and especially for the 12 who eventually took the court — was simply for fun and enjoyment.
Few expected to do the same things they did in high school.
Kelsie Donley Briggs (Class of 2010) learned otherwise.
“I still can’t make a layup,” she said after missing a second-half breakaway. “That hasn’t changed.”
For the record, the Orange team proved superior to the Blue team, 26-22.
The teams were picked at random, based on when they arrived at the gymnasium.
An exception was made for event organizer Kendra Donley Free (Class of 2005).
“I never played with my sister (Kelsie)  in high school, so we wanted to be on the same team,” Free said.
The majority of the competitors had been coached by Seal. The exception was Lori Claybaugh Clark (Class of 1995).
The former Bulldogs didn’t need coaches on the sidelines Saturday, though there were an assortment scattered throughout the bleachers.
“They know what they’re doing,” Seal said. “It was fun seeing them do the things they did in high school.”
Jim Rayburn was among the spectators offering encouragement to a daughter.
“I was telling her to shoot more,” Rayburn said.
“He has been telling me that for 20 years,” said Jen Rayburn Soderlind (Class of 2002).
Some of the players wondered what they were getting into.
“I haven’t touched a ball since I graduated nine years ago,” said Lauren Bosch Shaner (Class of 2009), who lives in Bradford.
That’s where her Orange teammate Kelly Thompson (Class of 2008) had an advantage.
“I play all the time,” said Thompson, who is in her first year as the girls’ basketball head coach at Rantoul High School.
Her retention of skills showed. She scored the game’s first basket and — with 1 minute, 26 seconds left in the opening half — drained a three-pointer that returned the lead to the Orange team, 12-11, for good.
There can be no question, she said, what is tougher between playing and coaching, even as she approaches her 10-year high school reunion.
“Coaching,” Thompson said. “This is my sixth year (working with high schoolers) and I have a lot to learn. Playing comes naturally.”
The other three three-pointers in the game were scored by Blue team members: Briggs, Free and Keri Williams Blair (Class of 2003).
The mother of two children, Blair had a simple goal for the afternoon.
“Not get injured,” she said.
Soderlind said the event was more than just reliving memories.
Once the whistle blew to start the action, she said, “we still feel like we’re in high school and we want to confirm we’re as young as ever.”
Then, reality set in.
“We’re tired,” Soderlind said.
Though she hasn’t been active on the court like Thompson in recent years, Soderlind is not totally removed from basketball either.
The mother of two children said, “I play with plastic hoops and balls now.”
Briggs appreciated the camaraderie.
“All the people had good sportsmanship,” she said.
The game’s top scorer was Tori Duvall (Class of 2013). She hit eight of her 10 points in the second half, including two of two accuracy from the free throw line.
Shaner, who lives in Kewanee, said the overall experience was memorable. Prior to the Alumni Game, the M-S varsity — which sat on the sidelines to watch the Alumni Game — defeated Champaign Central, 59-41.
“Seeing the varsity play brought back memories,” Shaner said. “It was really great for everyone to come together.”
Free doesn’t expect this will be a one-and-done activity.
“A couple people have expressed interest in playing next year,” Free said. “If we had more people, we could have more than one sub per team.
“This was so much fun.”
Among the other former M-S athletes who participated on Saturday were Hillary Veitch (Class of 2010) and Allison Fritz (Class of 2014). Fritz scored the last two points of the first half and the first two points of the second half for the victorious Orange team.
“This was very nostalgic,” Thompson said.
In case there was any question, Seal said, “we will definitely do it next year. Picking a date is difficult. There are always conflicts.”

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