ENID, Okla. —
At once, Courtney Chelf was all smiles, and misty-eyed.
Silly and serious, confident and undecided.
In the Enid High School girls’ gym, she cartwheeled across the wooden floor to the baseline for voluntary suicides, then won the race.
She fed her teammates lines and told them to speak in an English accent as they were interviewed — “Tell them, ‘she has funny jokes,’” she told junior Grace Enmeier, who dutifully responded, “She always has jokes” — and lamented losing them once they left.
After Friday’s practice, the final session before a scouting trip to watch first-round playoff foe Mustang, Chelf showed a little bit of everything on the emotional scale, in part because she’s running out of chances to do so.
When the Pacers and Plainsmen take to the Mabee Center floor tonight against rival Stillwater, starting with the girls varsity game at 6:30 p.m., nine seniors — Pacers Chelf and Shannon Mueller, and Plainsmen Harrison Maud, Deon Parker, Keon Parker, Jemarcus Jackson, Correll Baker, Michael Walker and Darnae Banks — will play for the last time as Enid High School players in front of a home crowd.
“It’s weird,” Chelf said. “I can’t believe it’s finally here. My last game. It’s sad to think about it, but I’m going to go out and make it memorable.”
Chelf’s senior season hasn’t been her individual best, but the past five games are close.
Averaging 17.6 points per game so far, Chelf has averaged 22.8 since a Jan. 25 win against Putnam City North, improving her steals (2.4) and rebounds (7) along the way.
“It’s been nice to have her on my side,” Pacers coach Robb Mills said. “(When Chelf was a freshman), I was an assistant, and for me to walk into a team (with) not only her, but all the pieces we have. Her being the senior leader has been really nice, and I think, lately, she’s been pushing harder.”
The late season push has helped the No. 7 Pacers to what seems to be a chance at the team’s best finish of Chelf’s four years. Topping out at 16 wins in 2011-12, and before that in 2010-11, which included a berth in the state tournament, Enid (16-3) already is even with its highest total in five seasons.
And the improvement might not be the greatest impact left after Chelf, who is holding out on an offer to play basketball or softball at Oklahoma State, and Mueller, who wants to enter nursing at Central Oklahoma, are gone, Mills said.
“I know girls look up to them,” he said. “Courtney and Shannon have been in the program, and they’re both very hard workers. They’ve been in the program as long as I can remember, and girls look up to them. Girls want to be like them. We had a little girls team in the locker room, and they were just in awe of them. They don’t think of themselves that way, but there’s little girls in the community that do.”
“It’s kind of scary,” Enmeier said. “Courtney’s a big leader on our team. I’ve never played without Courtney on varsity … It won’t be as fun (without her). She’s one of my best friends. It’s fun when she’s here.”
Even after basketball season, Chelf will have most of her last semester to decide on a major, and to otherwise prepare herself for life after high school. It might not be enough for Chelf, who said she’s both intimidated and excited for whatever’s next.
“I’m scared, and sad to leave all my friends here,” said Chelf, who plans to return to watch a Pacers team she says should be just fine without her next season. “I get to start a new chapter in my life and be with my other friends in college, to grow up, and take responsibility for myself.”
For now, the Pacers’ task is a season sweep of No.19 Stillwater (11-9), which Enid beat 52-44, Jan. 15 on the Lady Pioneers’ home floor.
Next is the potential for a 20-win season and a regional playoff opener against Mustang, Feb. 21 at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, a win in which would guarantee a trip to the area round.
“Right now, we’re focused on the playoffs, but it’s going to be a big-time night for both of them,” Mills said.
“It’s an emotional night, being their last home game, against one of our bitter rivals in Stillwater. I know they definitely want to win that game.”
Lessons learned for Plainsmen
The Plainsmen were expecting a better basketball season.
It’s not over yet — a win against Broken Arrow in the regional opener Feb. 22 in Bartlesville, and Enid (7-12) secures an area berth.
But when the Plainsmen lost to Guthrie Feb. 5, it didn’t just snap the Plainsmen’s season-long three-game win streak, it guaranteed a third consecutive losing season in a year Darnae Banks said he expected fewer than five losses and that started with Jemarcus Jackson hoping to close his high school career with a state title.
“It went by quick,” senior Keon Parker said after the team’s Friday practice. “Too quick. Things didn’t go as planned, and time flies when things don’t go as planned … I wanted to go out way better than we did.”
Keon’s brother had a good guess why.
“I can honestly say, half the games we lost, if we’d have played harder, we probably would have won,” said Deon Parker, the Plainsmen’s starting point guard. “If we wouldn’t underestimate the teams we play, we probably would have won half those games.”
As they approach tonight’s final home game, a farewell tilt with sixth-ranked rival Stillwater (16-4) at 8 tonight at the Mabee Center, the Plainsmen’s seniors also are slowly inching closer to life after high school, when a losing high school basketball season can take on a different meaning altogether.
Deon Parker said the lesson learned from on-court losses would be one he will apply to life’s bigger problems in the future.
“Life,” he said. “Jobs. With jobs, you don’t get a second chance. School, too. Never (take it lightly).”
For Ryan Wilkinson, the Plainsmen’s second-year coach, that’s a lesson he’s hoped would hit home all season.
“You have to take every opportunity as it comes,” he said. “We’ve talked about it … you don’t want to look back when you’re done and have regrets, and part of that is to show up and work hard every day. If they can look back and have the realization that, ‘I have some regrets for some of my days when I didn’t show up and work hard,’ it’s not good that we lose those games, but maybe that’s impactful with them in their future. We like to be successful on the basketball court, but ultimately, we’re trying to produce people that are successful in life.” But for now, he said, there’s a game to played.
“They seem excited,” Wilkinson said. “They’ve been positive, and looking forward to an opportunity to play a good Stillwater team, and do our best to get an upset win … They know it’s their last home game, and for seniors, that can lead to some mixed emotions.”