They say that you have to crawl before you can walk, and learn to walk before you can run. This season, the Lincolnwood girls basketball team learned just how hard crawling can be.
After 34 years without a basketball program to call their own, the Lady Lancers experienced a rebirth with their first varsity team since the 1984-85 season. Like all new beginnings, this one had it’s share of growing pains, but ultimately, if Lincolnwood can build on this year’s lessons, future Lady Lancers will be the better for it in the end.
Lincolnwood started the season with 13 players and were long on athleticism, with most of the roster fresh off a successful 28-8-1 volleyball campaign, but short on basketball experience. None of the 13 had played basketball at the high school level through Lincolnwood’s co-op with Pawnee, although some had played recreational basketball when they were younger.
The absence of experience resulted in some tough times for the Lancers, who were outscored 312 to 1,100 this season in 21 games, all of which ended with Lincolnwood on the short end of the scoreboard. Their closest games were against Bunker Hill on Jan. 30, a 40-25 loss, and a 39-21 affair on Nov. 25, against Brussels in the Lady Lancers’ first game in orange and black since March 11, 1985.
Not long after that game, a 54-48 loss to Hillsboro in the first round of the regional tournament in Raymond, the decision was made to cut the program, which went 2-13 that season according to a story in the Montgomery County News. Research trying to find why the program was cut has proved inconclusive, but the decision was disappointing to many.
Cindy (Stewart) Roecker, was a key part of that 1985 team and was one of the ones heartbroken by the decision.
“Parents and players went to the school board meetings to try to save the program, but we weren’t able to,” remembers Roecker, who was a sophomore during the 1984-85 season. “There were a few people that were trying to encourage me to try out for the boys’ team, but even that would have created challenges. There was no co-op or playing with other teams like with what we have seen evolve over the years at Lincolnwood. The options were just very limited, so I didn’t play basketball after that, except in intramurals and pick-up games throughout college.”
While she wasn’t able to play her final two years of high school, the game has continued to be a part of her life. Roecker, who scored a program record 38 points in Lincolnwood’s final loss to Hillsboro, has coached her daughter Finley’s basketball team at All Saints Catholic School near Tulsa for the last eight years.
“I started coaching her team back when she was in first grade and I’ve stuck with them,” said Roecker. “The school only goes up to eighth grade so this will be my last year coaching, unless I drop down and coach my third grade daughter’s team.”
While her daughter’s team has had it’s fair share of success, including a state title in the Diocesan Middle School Athletic Association last year as seventh graders, Roecker can’t help but think about what might have been if she would have been able to play all four years at Lincolnwood.
“I think about it every single day I’m in the gym coaching my girls. I realize, just from a coaching perspective, I could be a better coach to them if I had four full years of basketball. I feel like I missed out,” Roecker said. “I was so young and it doesn’t really stick with you. Thinking back, all of the things I’m teaching them, I don’t recall being taught that. I probably was, but I feel like I could have been a lot better if I would have been able to play four years.”
With one school record to her credit and two more years to go, the sky might have been the limit back then for Roecker.
“Early on I was thinking I could maybe play in college. Who knows if that would have worked out. You can’t dwell on that part,” Roecker said. “I do think it would have been fun to see how things would have worked out if we would have had basketball my four years there.”
While Roecker wasn’t able to play in college, others from Lincolnwood have made that step and are role models for this year’s team. Sarah Hitchings, a 1997 grad who was one of the first Lancers to take advantage of Lincolnwood’s co-op with Nokomis for girls basketball that began in 1993, went on to play for Bellarmine University after scoring 1,132 points for the Lady Redskins, currently seventh most all-time.
Va’Nicia Waterman, a 2001 graduate, was a key member of Nokomis’ state title teams in 1998 and 1999, still holds the career scoring record for the Lady Redskins with 2,384 points. Waterman, who went on to play for Bradley, had the most points in the history of Montgomery County girls basketball for 18 years, until Hillsboro’s Sammi Matoush surpassed her mark last season.
While Hitchings and Waterman were done with their high school careers before any of this year’s team was born, 2017 graduate Abby Brockmeyer provides an easier example on the possibilities that basketball can provide. Many of them can probably remember Brockmeyer dropping in shot after shot as a member of the Litchfield co-op squad, where she would go on to set a program scoring record with 2,362 points before heading to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Several players from the high school team and the junior high program, also in its first year, were in attendance for Brockmeyer’s opening game of her junior season in November 2019 in Edwardsville. The 6’1” forward scored 16 points and had seven rebounds in the game, but more importantly, she took time to talk to the next generation of Lady Lancers after the game.
That type of connection is what Roecker remembers from her time as a Lady Lancer, not the points, not the records and not the wins and losses.
“I think what I really valued in the program, I was only a sophomore at the time, was how supportive the older girls were to me,” Roecker remembers. “There were a lot of good girls in the program. A lot of the time they were the same girls that were in volleyball and track with you. That’s really what I remember the most.”
The current Lady Lancers are on that same path. They’ve practiced together. They’ve lost together. And if they can stick it out through the hard times, someday, they’ll win together.