GLENS FALLS, N.Y.
The crash wasn't the end of the road. It turned out to be the beginning of the ride.
"It was really hard on the team," sophomore center Symone Kelly said of the frightening car accident on Jan. 21 that left Kelly and three other starters on the St. Anthony's girls basketball team injured. One of them, Kerrin Mauer, was lost for the season with a fractured ankle and two hip fractures.
"It really took a toll on us,'' Kelly said, "and this just shows how much we had to overcome. And we did. That's why we're here."
Kelly (back injury), Brianna Harris (separated shoulder plus stitches) and Micki Impellizeri (stitches in several areas) each missed at least two weeks. In their absence, several young players blossomed. Like broken bones in the human body, St. Anthony's emerged not only intact but stronger.
Yesterday's 60-48 loss to Averill Park in the state Federation Class A championship game did nothing to diminish the team's accomplishments against some pretty steep odds. "These girls were very resilient," first-year coach Ken Parham said. "Everyone rallied to help us get through it and it made us stronger as a team. It made us closer as a unit."
The Friars were on a mission. They wanted to win the state championship for the team's only senior, Carolyn Lizza, who scored 10 points yesterday, and they wanted to win it for Mauer, their leading scorer, who attended her junior prom this weekend and wasn't in Glens Falls. Mauer is in rehabilitation and hopes to join the lacrosse team later this spring.
The other injured players came back in stages, making this a team in transition all season. "We had four kids in the car and each one came back at different times," Parham said. "One came back in two weeks, one missed three, one was almost four and one never came back.
"It [the accident] was always there. We went through times where basketball didn't really matter. We were very happy that we were all healthy."
It was a life lesson that perhaps came a little early in these young lives. But it resonated. One school official described the scene in the car as "lots of blood, lots of glass."
Kelly, who had 16 rebounds and eight points yesterday, said her brain has blocked out those visions. "I can't even remember the accident or anything from it,'' she said. "I don't worry about it too much. I don't think about it."
Impellizeri, who had six points, three steals and three blocked shots, says she still recalls that Thursday afternoon.
"Oh, it was really scary," the junior forward said. "It was a big accident and it was hard to deal with mentally and emotionally. It was a tough one to get through. But we hung together and we had each other."
That bonding began the day after the crash when Parham and the team visited the girls, who were in two different hospitals. It also was the day before their next game. That became a regular occurrence.
"During that time, the day before a game, we wouldn't practice," Parham said. "We would go to the hospital to visit the girls or we would go over to their houses. The other girls would say, "Coach, don't we have a game?' I'd say, 'Oh, yeah, we do.' I told them at that point, basketball didn't matter. We were going to get through this accident together as a family and as a team."
The trip to Glens Falls was proof that the journey was its own reward, a journey that started with a jolt of reality. "We're all completely changed from that event," Impellizeri said.
The entire Friars family learned that a loss on the basketball court isn't much of a loss at all.