“But it’s been no bed of roses. No pleasure cruise. I consider it a challenge before the whole human race. And I ain’t gonna lose.”
Now, probably, nobody from the Bishop Shanahan girls basketball team was humming Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” but the season did provide some challenges that they didn’t face in the last couple of years en route to becoming one of the preeminent teams in the area.
The losses, both nonleague and in the Ches-Mont, started to pile up, the thought of a chance of three-peating as league champions started to grow dimmer.
“I’m not going to stand here and say I thought we were going to play in the championship game,” said Shanahan coach Fran Burbidge. “But, I thought we had a shot. It’s what we talked about. The only thing we can control is what we can do the second time through (the Ches-Mont National). So, that put the pressure on us. We had to beat Henderson, we had to beat Coatesville, we had to Downingtown East. Then we had to hope something happened to those guys that allowed us to be in the hunt. And fortunately for us, it did. We got in. We now control our own destiny and shame on us if we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Then, everything came together, Courtney Warley was scoring in bunches with the touches she was getting, but she wasn’t the only one contributing to the offense. More importantly, the defense started jelling. Then the wins started coming.
“It was probably about seven games into the season,” said Burbidge on when the turning point was. “We were playing a certain way, because I was encouraging them to play that way. It just wasn’t the strength for thse kids. Somewhere around the first of the year, we switched it.
“We said, let’s get some touches for her (Warley) and let’s run some stuff to get us back defending. Early in the season we weren’t defending, and it wasn’t the kids fault. We got better passing the ball and the other guys were shooting in rhythm, and not just on first shot.”
They got back into the Ches-Mont League final Wednesday at West Chester East with a familiar opponent staring back them — Coatesville. In a tight battle where the Eagles never trailed, they held the Red Raiders at arm’s length for a 47-39 victory and a third straight league championship trophy to adorn the school’s trophy case.
They kept their composure when things started to get a bit testy, and the large Coatesville contingent began to make its presence felt. But, defense and a couple of key 3-pointers were the difference.
“It’s great,” said Warley. “At the beginning of the season we didn’t we can get here, but we still wanted to work hard and improve ourselves, so that definitely showed tonight.”
The Western Michigan football team had a saying that became popular this year, “Row the Boat.” In explaining how his team didn’t fall apart, Burbidge might have come up with a phrase to remember.
“We talked about everybody pulling on the rope, and they all pulled on the rope the same way,” he said.
At the beginning of the season, the outlook was definitely murky for the Eagles. Key graduations and the transfer of forward Devon Adams was a challenge for them to overcome.
“When we first started, our goal was to reach Ches-Monts and three-peat,” Warley added. “But after our losses, we didn’t know it was possible to make it. We just clicked. Everybody got keyed in at the same time.”
The main, but certainly, not only reason for the revival was the play of Warley. In the last 10 games she had only one with fewer than 15 points. She went over the 20-point mark five times during that stretch.
Wednesday, despite notching 14 points, it was her work on the defensive end that made the loudest noise. She recorded six blocks, including one with a little over a minute left that sealed the victory.
For another senior, Jen Sendi, the magnitude of another championship hit her immediately after the game ended.
“When the buzzer went off, my heart started pounding, I was so excited,” she said. “It was great to have two under us, but with three, it’s a great feeling.”
While this win had to be satisfying for the veteran coach, he didn’t even begin to start comparing wins and seasons.
“Because this is the current one, its really, really good. I would never do an injustice to any of the other teams and kids I’ve coached during the years, they’ve all been special. I’m just so happy for the kids,” he said.
And to paraphrase Mr. Freddie Mercury, they are the champions, my friend.
Bryan Davis covers girls basketball for Digital First Media and PaPrepLive.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @btdavis25.