Once they were Valley Conference rivals, but this season the Truman girls basketball team has combined skills with Granada-Huntley-East Chain on the hardwood court.
"At first I was worried about the two teams coming together to play," said Granada-Huntley-East Chain head coach Rick Uttech. "I knew some of the girls from track and other things, and they were fun kids. The more I thought about it, combining seemed like the right thing to do."
For the Truman girls, joining the Mustangs helped to save their season from ending before it started. In addition to allowing the Truman girls to have a basketball team this year, it also created additional friendships for both teams.
COMBINING FORCES — Truman’s Emily Zaharia (with ball) maneuvers against Granada-Huntley-East Chain’s Amanda Cegelske (back right) as GHEC’s Rachel Shumski (left) guards Truman’s Brooke McDonald during a regular-season game Jan. 3 at East Chain School. After a late merger between the two programs this fall, Shumski, Zaharia and McDonald are now teammates this season. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"I knew that I was going to play basketball no matter what," said Truman senior Brooke McDonald. "We lost a few girls who didn't want to come over, and our coach from Truman, that's a bummer. But I wanted to play my senior season of basketball and I would have done whatever I had to in order to play."
In addition to seniors McDonald and Emily Zaharia, there are six other girls that came over to play basketball under coach Uttech.
"I really like that we've combined with them," said Emily Zaharia. "I just wanted to play, and I knew some of the girls from track, and so far it has been really great to play together."
Combining two varsity rosters can make for some speed bumps, but the challenges haven't slowed down the Mustangs.
"With a new system, new drills and new coaches, there is still a learning process that is happening," said Uttech. "But I thought that the added competition of the Truman girls could help us, and I believe it has. I think everyone has improved and is working hard every day."
With the newly-added players, this season's roster features last year's Sentinel All-Area player of the year GHEC's sophomore Rachel Shumski and two other All-Area selections in Zaharia and McDonald as the Mustangs have started out with a 3-2 record this season.
"I think that having all of these girls here has been great. We are from small schools, and so you usually only have a few really good friends that you make there," said Granada-Huntley-East Chain senior Nicole Lenort. "But we made lots of new friends when they came over and that's great. And with more players, it actually gives us more of a bench, so at practice or during games people don't get as tired."
With the added depth on the roster, both the coaches and players knew that tough decisions would have to be made for starting positions.
"We knew coming in that the Truman girls would bring some talent to our team. And we had a lot of our own girls that came back from last year," said Uttech. "So it has been good overall. And I think that everyone is handling the adjustment well."
That improvment has helped spur the Mustangs to their solid start, including a win over Madelia to open the season and a six-point loss to Martin County West on Dec. 13.
"The Madelia game was really fun for us, and we competed well against Martin County West, who is a good team," said Uttech. "I think those have both been big games for us, and I hope we just continue to improve."
When the opponent that you've gone up against for years suddenly becomes your practice partner, that could potentially cause friction.
The Mustangs seemed to have smoothly navigated that challenge and everyone seems excited about the direction they are heading.
"I think it's going to take a while until we are all really comfortable and understand how each other plays, but so far it has been going well and I'm excited to see where we go," said Shumski.