There are a lot of reasons this is a memorable basketball season for Anna Jefferson-Polk.
She is the senior leader for the Weatherford Lady Kangaroos and one of the top guards in the North Texas area. It is the conclusion of a high school career she dedicated to her late mother and grandmother.
And it has been a reunion with her best friend, Gabbie Huggins, also a senior.
"We made a pinkie promise, and we take pinkie promises seriously," Jefferson-Polk said.
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Being the only returning player - not the only returning STARTER, the only returning PLAYER - from last season, Jefferson-Polk had a lonely feeling heading into this season. Also, at only 5-3, while she is a great shooter, defender and passer, she knew the team needed some height. Who better than her best friend, Huggins, who stands 6-1?
But Huggins had not played since junior high. She had focused on soccer and volleyball. But Jefferson-Polk really wanted her friend back on the team with her.
Turned out, Huggins wanted the same thing.
"I went to every volleyball game. I was supporting my friend, and now it's special to have her back on the team with me," Jefferson-Polk said.
"It's good to see her face every day," Huggins said. "Her uncle and grandpa also kept saying, 'We need you in basketball.' It's my senior year, so I thought it would be fun to play together again."
Led by the duo, the Lady Roos are in playoff contention in District 3-6A.
"It's the heart and soul of the team. It brings everybody together," Lady Roos coach Darryn Shearmire said of their friendship. "And having Gabbie out there makes all the difference. She just fit right in. I think her biggest fear was how would she fit in, but she's great."
Shearmire gives much credit to Jefferson-Polk for making the transition to basketball easier for her friend.
"Anna's the best leader we've had, hands down. She shoots people straight. She keeps it real for everybody," he said.
"When I came back I hadn't played in four years, and I wasn't very good," Huggins said. "Everything was difficult, but Anna kept saying, 'You're fine. Calm down.'"
Jefferson-Polk and Huggins have known each other since they were children, once going to the same church, where Jefferson-Polk's grandfather has pastored for more than three decades. But they got separated at different elementary schools and churches before being reunited in middle school in 2012.
"I remember seeing her on the first day of middle school and that's when we reconnected," Jefferson-Polk said. "Now we're graduating together."
Jefferson-Polk lost her mother to cancer in 2005. Her grandmother succumbed to the disease as Jefferson-Polk was set to begin her freshman season on the varsity.
"Some days it's hard. You want your mom there for your senior year," she said. 'My grandmother loved to see me play basketball. I remember saying, 'Granny, I may be on varsity.' She said, 'I know you will.'
"It's hard seeing girls talking with their moms, and I want that. But I go on, knowing she's proud of me."
It was Huggins who helped her work through her grandmother's passing, along with missing her mother.
"They told me she had passed away (her grandmother). I went into the locker room," Jefferson-Polk recalled. "I had been pretty strong, but I broke down crying. It was good to have Gabbie at that moment. Sometimes you just need to hear that voice."
Jefferson-Polk now lives with her grandfather. She's also very close to her uncle and other family members, cherishing every moment with them, as she does with Huggins.
"I'm just thankful I have them. We are very strong in faith," she said. "I'm glad my grandpa taught me how to trust in God. I'm very glad I have my family. I wouldn't be as strong without them."
Shearmire said Jefferson-Polk "gets life."
"She understands basketball is a game and that relationships last," he said. "She's the ultimate serving kind, and that's the kind of leader you want. Never once has she asked, 'What's in it for me?'"
Shearmire also said that Huggins' return should serve as an inspiration for anyone wanting to try something but afraid.
"Gabbie sends a message that you can just go have fun. It doesn't have to be your favorite sport," he said. "This is your only chance in high school. Why not give it a chance?"
Huggins, one of the top students at WHS, is headed to college at Notre Dame after this school year. She hasn't ruled out trying to walk onto one of the sports teams, but plans on focusing on her studies in biology.
Jefferson-Polk said she definitely wants to play in college somewhere. She has received an offer from South Plains College.
And yes, they understand their time together is coming to an end - for the most part. However, while on separate campuses and probably even in different states, they plan on staying in touch consistently.
"I'm going to face time her every day crying," Huggins said. "I'm trying to get her to run track with me before we graduate."
To which Jefferson-Polk smiled and said, "I'll be there cheering her on. And we'll hang out after."