The Summit girls basketball team made history this season, though it wasn’t the kind of history it aspired to. For the first time since the school opened in 2002, the Lady Jaguars didn’t qualify for the postseason. Summit needed a victory in last Friday night’s game against Red Oak to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, but came up two points short in a 61-59 loss.
“I was very pleased with our effort. I thought we did some good things and battled really hard,” Jaguars coach Tammy Lusinger said. “They shot 68 percent from the free throw line; we shot 59. And we shot 37 free throws, so you would hope that would be enough to win a close ball game.”
In a lot of ways, it was a microcosm of Summit’s season. They finished District 14-5A at 8-8, with five of those losses coming by three points or fewer. In the other four of those losses, the Lady Jags hit on less than 40 percent of their free throws.
“I think in my mind these kids did a lot of really great things and we weren’t rewarded for it, because of our free-throw shooting,” Lusinger added.
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Another key to the season was a lack of varsity experience. After graduating seven seniors from last year’s squad and then losing a starting guard to injury over the summer, Summit featured just two players, Nia Jackson and Taylor Jones, with significant varsity minutes. As team leaders, Jackson and Jones saw growth in this year’s group, and don’t feel its shortcomings had anything to do with effort.
“I think we had a lot of ups and downs,” Jones said. “In the tournaments, we could see what we were capable of. We were capable of doing some really big things, but I guess we just weren’t able to bring it every night.”
Summit dug itself an 0-3 hole to start district play, then responded with a four-game winning streak before closing out the first round of district games at 4-4. But by then the talk had already started about being that first team to miss the playoffs.
“After our early losses in district, to me it became a factor,” Jones admitted. “Nobody wants to be that team. After those losses and when the second round of district came around, the pressure just got worse.”
“The pressure was a big thing and it was something we wanted to overcome,” Lusinger said. “(Jackson and Taylor) both handled the pressure really well and stayed positive throughout the year.”
But in the end, the inability to win even a couple of those close games did Summit in. It shows the fine line that can exist between a trip toward state or an early start to offseason.
“To lose that many games by that close of a margin – you win those games and you’re in second place,” Lusinger pointed out.
Despite missing the postseason, Jackson had nothing but praise for her teammates.
“I’m very proud, especially for all the girls who didn’t have all the varsity experience,” she said. “You can’t be anything but proud. They gave it their all and fought. At the end of the day, we’re still a team.”
Lusinger also sees better days ahead for the program, which won state titles in 2009 and 2012.
“We’re real excited about the future,” she said. “We lose three players. Next year we’ll have eight seniors, and we’ll get our point guard back who started last year as a freshman.”
It’s also likely a few newcomers from the freshman squad, which went 26-0 this season, will challenge for playing time.
“I felt like we battled hard. There were a few games were I felt like we had some kids not show up mentally. Those kinds of things come back and bite you. We talked about learning from that and just trying to move forward,” Lusinger added.
For Jackson and Jones, their chapters of Summit basketball are over, but not without important memories. Jackson was a part of that state championship run in 2012 as a freshman, earning a medal with her older sister. Jones noted the importance of her playing days extend beyond the court.
“You learn so much, not even just the things from basketball,” she said. “I’ve learned how to grow up. You play here and you learn how to play young and have a big role.”