York, PA -
Wanna talk about toughness?
Dallastown coach Mary Manlove walked by the athletic trainer before the York-Adams league tournament championship game and noticed guard Jenna Jackson's ankle. She couldn't miss it.
"I mean it's fat, and I want to know why no one told me," Manlove said. "It was a terrible strain. (She) blew out her ankle against Dover. And still battled like no one knew tonight."
No one needed to know. Jackson was ready to play.
Then there's fellow Dallastown senior Shae Grim.
She collided with teammate Alex Lehman in the second quarter.
Once Grim propped herself up, she walked to the Dallastown bench with blood dripping from her nose. No panic. No gross-out moment. Officials scrambled to clean up the mess on the floor, and she just went to the trainer.
"I just wanted to go back in," Grim said.
Sure enough she returned a few moments later with her nose packed, a piece of gauze or cotton dangling out a nostril.
"She's like, 'Shove something up there, I'm hopping back in there,'" Manlove said.
That's the story of this year's league championship team. Dallastown might not have had the best shooters in the league or the best overall player. Yet after watching Dallastown defeat West York, 50-37, in the league tournament championship game, it's easy to see why Dallastown had the best team. The starting lineup features three seniors -- Grim, Jackson and Shannon Thomas, who have played together since the second grade. The seniors have welcomed one junior and one sophomore into the starting lineup, becoming a unit and overcoming some difficult stuff.
Instead of splintering apart, setbacks and heartbreaks forged a common goal: They wanted to win -- and win now.
"This senior class has been superb at being a cohesive unit," Manlove said. "They have brought this team together. They organize team events. They pick each other up when they fall. They slap hands after every single drill, and that's the stuff that wasn't happening four years ago."
Consider last year as an example of how a championship team confronts adversity.
"They went 13-9 as freshmen, 17-9 the next year, so coming into their junior year there were huge , huge expectations," Manlove said. "Their junior year they went 12-12, and it was really, really tough."
Before last year, one of those girls that had been playing basketball with this year's senior class since the second grade, Jenny Horvatinovic, moved to rival Red Lion.
"We missed her, but I think in the end it may have helped us out even more," Grim said. "Jenny's a great player ... but, I don't know, I think we just came together and I don't know what it was."
Never mind that a Dallastown girls' team hadn't reached the league final since 2000. If the Wildcats fell short, it wouldn't be for a lack of effort. And they would do it together.
They doubled up on workouts, Manlove said.
They started riding each other when someone missed a summer league game, Manlove said.
"I think we realized this was our last year," Jackson said. "We always dominated when we were younger, and ..."
Thomas finished her classmate's thought: "... we were just determined to win."
So when they ran into West York, a team they had lost to once and finished behind in the Division I standings, they didn't panic.
"We had to stay calm, because of (West York's) high pressure we just had to relax," Thomas said.
Grim said: "We knew we were going to get banged around; we had to be tough and we had to be smart."
Dallastown took the lead for good at the 3:14 mark of the first quarter, and despite a number of comeback attempts, the Wildcats never really let it get close in the second half.
Manlove looks back at the first few years she coached this year's senior class and remembers girls becoming upset and angry and not handling adversity. But that's not how she'll remember the Class of 2013. She'll remember them for what they've become.
"They have matured into absolute animals," Manlove said.
It was a term of endearment. After all, it takes all kinds of guts and toughness to play like an animal -- and win a championship.
Jim Seip can be reached at 771-2025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.