The girls divide into groups, and it’s not hard to tell how the decision is made. Seniors stand casually at one end of the gym, while the freshmen gather timidly at the other. These five huddled girls are new today. Yesterday, they only had their classmates to worry about. Today, they are trying out with the JV and varsity basketball players. Today, the stakes are higher.
Nothing seems to separate them from one another except for their names carefully Sharpied onto the backs of their wrinkled white t-shirts. “Blubaugh 54” reads one of them. Freshman Caroline Blubaugh joins the other girls as the dribbling warm-up commences. Today is going to be her day.
As the drill continues, Blubaugh begins to relax. It’s nothing too complicated, just something to help her dribbling skills. She looks at the ground and focuses on keeping the basketballs from slipping away. But slowly the right ball slips out of her grasp and bounces to her side. As she reaches to correct her mistake, she loses the left. Blubaugh quickly snatches the balls and resumes the drill, but not before glancing around the gym to make sure her fault went unseen.
Blubaugh is just another face in the crowd. Not only that, she is a freshman face. In order to make the team, she needs to stand out. No more mistakes. She and five other freshman girls were surprised by the text the night before that let them know they were being bumped up to the JV and varsity tryouts. While this was just what the girls had been working for, they weren’t on the team yet.
“I was relieved,” Blubaugh said. “But I also knew that now it was going to be a step up and there was going to be more pressure.”
This was something that Blubaugh knew she was going to face. After all, for her, the basketball season started long before the Nov. 17 tryout date.
After playing in the Lady Lancers’ summer league and attending a number of Crossfit courses with her dad, Blubaugh knew that she would be comfortable in the gym. Yet she stood shifting her weight back and forth and tapping her hands impatiently. The nerves were getting to her.
“Sometimes it helped me to be nervous because I would try harder,” Blubaugh said. “Sometimes I think it would mess me up. But I was always fine.”
But as timid as she feels inside, her demeanor on the court makes up for it. She takes a hard drive towards the far corner of the three-point line and lobs a ball up, hoping for the best. Swoosh. Somebody better have seen that.
A muffled ‘good job Blubaugh’ comes from the other girls who share her navy blue penny. She was right after all, she did belong here. She stepped outside of black court lines and resumed her hesitant posture. No matter how many threes she aced, though, the butterflies would always be there.
That feeling didn’t matter. Blubaugh said that at the heart of these tryouts she just wanted to work her hardest. If she did that, she felt that she would be happy knowing that she made the team she deserved. Once there, the opportunity for progress would come.
“When you’re new you don’t have experience,” said head girls basketball coach Austin Klumpe. “So, we’re just look for [the girls] to, over time, gain experience and develop [their] skill sets.”
The nerves turned into anticipation as the last night of tryouts progressed. Then that anticipation shifted to sheer dread. What time did they post this list anyways? And did she really want to know? Blubaugh’s thumb hovered longingly over the refresh button of her iPhone. How much longer would she have to endure this?
It was 10 p.m. when she got her answer. The page loaded and revealed a list of names printed on a stark black background. This was it. This is what she had waited for. Worked for. This is what she felt like she deserved. Blubaugh scrolled down and scanned the names looking desperately for one that looked familiar.
Caroline Blubaugh. There it was, nestled under Laura Adams at the bottom of the list. She made the team. She was going to be a member of the 2014 JV girls basketball team. A wave of relief rolled over her and the butterflies that she had been feeling all week were finally put to rest.
“I was just really really proud of it,” Blubaugh said. “And that was a good feeling.”
The hard part seemed to be over, but Caroline still needed to prove that she was the right choice. The first day of practice seemed no different than the days earlier that week. Tryouts may have been over, but the time to perform had just begun.
The feeling of constant anxiety was quickly replaced with the need to perform. However, as practices continued things began to look better. Suddenly names were being called across the court and the quick flash of a braces-laden smile was not such a rare sight.
“The girls get more comfortable,” girls’ JV coach Julie Sparks said. “They’re just trying to figure each other out and try to get to know each other.”
With two games already under the belt, tryouts seem like a lifetime ago. While they were once filled with the impatient tapping of a foot or the cautious look over a shoulder, they have faded into the desire to work hard and push the team. Caroline is thankful to the coaches for trusting her and knows how she wants to impact her team – through hard work. She knew it from the minute she got that text.