By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The five young women around the table listened to the question, and played with it like it was a cat toy.
Yes, that’s it. Exactly. They were five cats playing with a cat toy. Batting it around. Chasing the question up this line of thinking. Following it down this tunnel of logic. Letting it sit there for a second, as if somehow it would move. Then they would pounce with their words, one talking fast, the next one talking faster and before I knew it was like there were 50 young women in that meeting room at SRJC’s Haehl Pavilion, words flying around like so many mini-sonic booms, bouncing off walls and ears.
“We love talking over each other,” said McKenzie Mangino. “It’s so much fun.”
Six SRJC women basketball players have been offered and accepted scholarships to play the sport at four-year colleges. The number was unprecedented, almost half the team. Their coach, Lacey Campbell, has a little dynasty going. The SRJC women, after all, have made the state Final Four three of the past four years. Five times she was named Big 8 Coach of the Year. Campbell has a 189-76 record in her eight years at SRJC.
Only forward Anandi Jimenez, who prepped at Montgomery, was missing.
So, Skyler, have you ever been to Fort Kent?
Guard Skyler Olsen is going to the University of Maine-Fort Kent, which is farther north and east than Montreal and Quebec City, where even the squirrels wear booties.
“I heard there’s a bunch of moose there,” Olsen said.
And that started a stream of what sounded like animal noises and animal references, how they were sure as hell weren’t going to visit her on spring break.
So, had she been there?
Olsen shook her head and, boom, off they went again. Yeah, yeah, you like adventure, Sky, but this is life with moose we’re talking about it here and don’t bring your flip-flops, girl and…
“Skyler is tough. She’s from Kelseyville,” said one of them, probably guard Whitney Edens who is going to Hawaii-Hilo and is from from Cloverdale. All I knew was that it came from the right side of the table. Edens and Mangino, who’s also going to Hilo, were on the right side. On the left side were Arianna Hanson, Jade Hudson and Olsen. Hanson and Hudson are going to Cal State Dominquez Hills, as will Jimenez.
I quickly determined, if I were to keep my sanity, I would have to think of this interview like a ring announcer for a boxing match. In this corner, in the red trunks, looking fit, we have Whitney and McKenzie. In the other corner, in the blue trunks, looking like they can take it as good as they give it, we have Arianna, Skyler and Jade.
Everyone stayed on their side except when Hudson, who’s from Fortuna, climbed on the center of the table and started beating it with her fists. Why? It had something to do with someone on the right side talking about how tough Hudson was and how players looking for a block would bounce off her and she would be like a Colossus standing there resolute and that’s when Edens made this grunting noise like this is what Colossus sounds like.
And thank you for staying with me on this one.
I swear I was channeling John Belushi in “Animal House.”
“We don’t have any friends … except for us,” Edens said.
You mean, the five in this room?
“No, no,” said Mangino, who’s from Ukiah. “Everyone on the team!”
“Everyone!” she repeated with fervor. “When we are on campus, we walk in a herd. Most of the time we all wear the same clothes.”
In sports players and coaches speak all the time — when a team wins — of how close the team is. How they all take the same breath together and blah, blah, blah and it sounds like they are reading the ingredients on a carton of milk. Whatever. This was different because the women weren’t telling me, they were showing me.
“We cry when we win,” Whitney said. “We cry when we lose. We just cry.”
And the game doesn’t have to be over. Against San Francisco City College, while on the bench, Hanson was crying because the Bear Cubs had rallied to tie and she was happy for the comeback. Campbell turned to tell Hanson to get in the game, saw the tears and said to heck with that, I can’t put a player in the game who is crying.
How often do they see each other?
“About 12 hours a day,” Mangino said.
“Maybe only seven,” said Hanson, who went to Rincon Valley Christian.
“Every day for the last two years,” someone on the right side said. Everyone agreed. Like this summer. The season is over but they play at Haehl from 10-11:30 p.m. just for the heck of it.
It’s almost July and soon these birds will be flying the coop, to Hawaii and Los Angeles and Mooseland.
“We can’t think of that,” said Edens, already feeling the pain of separation anxiety. “I think Mac and I are going to sleep in the same bed for the first month.”
The five players goofed on everyone. They mocked Campbell for her loud knocks on their motel room doors when on the road. Go to sleep! You’re disturbing the people next door! Don’t make me come in! Like she was hotel security.
“I’m going to miss Lacey the most,” Edens said.
The room went silent. Their coach was inside them. Always will be. It was eerily quiet. For about five seconds.
“I’m going to miss my dog the most,” said Olsen with a small but discernible grin. “She’s a black lab. Her name is Lacey.”
Oh, you should have heard the barking. Sounded like a damn kennel in there.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.