Two losses: one game

Posted on 28 January 2015 by admin

Lady Archers mourn loss on the court and in their hearts

lady archersBy: SPENCER GLEASON
Editor in Chief

The drive home was quiet.

The last member of the women’s basketball team hopped in the STLCC school van and shut the door. Assistant Coach Janey Milligan started the engine and drove the van out of the St. George Church gravel parking lot. Thirteen girls in the van and barely a word was spoken the entire 50 minute ride home.

The Lady Archers had just suffered a loss. Not a loss on the court. But one in their heart.

Judy Ethridge — mother of Head Coach Shelly Ethridge — had died of lung cancer. She was 67.

Instead of Ethridge offering basketball lessons to her players, the team was offering hugs to their coach.

“A lot of the girls haven’t really dealt with something like that,” Milligan said. “The thing that really got the girls was seeing [their] coach like that. You never want to see someone you love in pain and you can’t do anything about it. I think that’s what really [got them].”

GAME DAY

Two days prior, the Lady Archers had a 5 p.m. away game scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 21 against their conference rival Mineral Area College. Mineral Area had beaten STLCC earlier in the season on the Lady Archers home court. This game was supposed to be payback.

But the day was going to stand for something more.

Milligan’s phone rang that morning. It was Assistant Coach Melanie Marcy. Ethridge’s mom’s two-and-a-half year battle with cancer was over. She was no longer suffering.

Thoughts of cancelling the game were subsided with thoughts of what Judy Ethridge would have wanted.

“They knew that that’s not what her mom would‘ve wanted,” Milligan said. “Her mom wouldn’t have wanted us to not play.”

In the same conversation, Marcy asked Milligan to be head coach for a day — something the second year assistant had not yet done.

“It was a crazy rollercoaster of emotion,” Milligan said. “But when [the] time came, I just [snapped] it into basketball mode. It’s just what I had to do.”

With the decision to play the game being made, the news of Judy Ethridge had not reached beyond Marcy, Milligan and the Lady Archer captains, Tiara Bradley and Deborah Holcomb.

The team did not know. That responsibility fell on Milligan.

Milligan brought the team together during their shoot around, prior to their hour-long drive to Mineral Area, and shared with them the news.

“I just tried to explain the kind of person she was. I think this team kind of got gipped a little bit, as far as getting to know her,” Milligan said. “It didn’t matter if she didn’t know them personally. The fact that they played for her daughter, she loved them and they were family.”

Some of the sophomores had known Judy Ethridge from last season. She would often be in the stands watching her daughter coach and cheer on the extension of her family. The freshmen — although in their first year of the program — shared in their sentiment.

“They were sad, obviously. I think, mostly sad for Coach [Ethridge] — sad for her and what she’s had to go through the past few months,” Milligan said. “At the same time, I told them that we had a game and that we had to get out there and handle our business.”

GAME TIME

Milligan wanted to make her counterparts proud. The team wanted to avenge their loss from earlier in the season.

Together — the Lady Archers wanted the game for Ethridge.

“They were excited for the game,” Milligan said. “They wanted it for Coach [Ethridge]. It added to the motivation for the game.”

The motivation seemed to work early on. The momentum was theirs.

“We came out firing,” Milligan said. “We had everything going our way. We were getting stops on defense. Shots were falling for us. We were playing really well.”

Halftime came. Milligan coached the Lady Archers to a five point lead, 30-25, after the first 20 minutes.

“The girls stepped up a lot. The team captains [Holcomb and Bradley] helped me the whole time,” Milligan said. “They were right there. They were a little more vocal than they usually are. Everyone knew the importance of the game. And everyone knew that they had to step up.”

Milligan grabbed the first half stats from the media table — something Marcy would do. She spoke to her team at halftime — Ethridge’s job.

She prepped them for the second half.

“It was a weird balance,” Milligan said. “I’ve learned so much and I try to take some from both [Ethridge and Marcy] and incorporate my own style. I don’t even know what my own coaching style is, yet.”

The Lady Archers picked up where they left off in the first half — defensive stops and falling shots. It remained that way until the final 1:40 of the game. Then the game began to slip away.

Fouls were called. Mineral Area was given free shots. And they escaped with a 65-61 win.

With thoughts of Ethridge, the Lady Archers had just suffered their second loss, that day.

“The fact that they had just worked their tail off for [a little over] 38 minutes and they got out worked for 1:40 [upset them],” Milligan said. “We wanted to win it for Coach [Ethridge] and we didn’t get it done.”

For Milligan, who played for Ethridge and Marcy from 2009-2011, the player mentality in her was not a “should have” or “could have done more” mentality. She wanted to leave every game with everything out on the floor.

On Jan. 21, the Lady Archers took that page from their head coach for-a-day.

The team piled into the school van afterward and began their drive home from Park Hills, Mo. They turned up the music and joked with each other.

“The ride home was actually fun, which is what we needed,” Milligan said. “It was really good. I wouldn’t want them to beat themselves up about it.”

Just 36 hours later, their ride home would be more somber.

AN ARCHER MATRIARCH

The doctors gave Judy Ethridge until Christmas. Christmas came and went. And she was able to spend the holiday with family.

The doctors gave her two more weeks, following Christmas. Two more weeks came and went. Judy Ethridge was still with family.

Family came in town to visit and help care for her. Still, Judy Ethridge would play host and make sure those in her home were taken care of.

“She was a fighter. That’s just who she was,” Milligan said. “[She] was amazing. And that word doesn’t even describe her. I wish I could’ve known her better. But at the same time, I’m very lucky that I knew her a little bit better than some of my former teammates.”

Judy Ethridge would make Milligan and her teammates cupcakes, the two seasons she played for Ethridge.

“She made the best cupcakes I have ever had in my life,” Milligan said.

The stands would always have seats taken by Judy Ethridge and her late-husband, Mike. Mike Ethridge died of cancer in December 2011.

Judy Ethridge continued to attend and cheer her daughter’s teams. They were, after all, part of the family.

“Coach [Ethridge] is one of my biggest role models — someone I look up to and strive to be like,” Milligan said. “And she is like that because of her mom. Her mom was just an incredible lady. If she were here, she would probably be upset that I’m saying all of these things. She’d say, ‘Move on.’”

And so the Lady Archers will do just that.

“Basketball is our escape,” Milligan said. “While we’re going through this horrible, horrible time, we have this escape in the game of basketball. And it’s a beautiful thing to have. We’re so lucky to have it.”

 

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