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Tom Rysinski: Senior Night brings out flood of positive memories

Senior Night is one of the most bittersweet moments for a high school athlete. The chance to look back on your time playing a sport often brings back positive memories, but knowing it’s coming to an end can be tough to swallow.

But for six Pahrump Valley High School basketball players, it was more about the positive memories Monday when the Trojans played Western. And the best part? The memories were positive despite the very different results the teams have achieved over the past four years.

Monday night marked the last home game for Koby Lindberg, Kasey Dilger, Grant Odegard and Jerrick Sparkman. It was the last regular season home game for Maddie Hansen and Jazmyne Turner, but the girls team will be playing at least one game at home during the postseason and possibly three, as Pahrump Valley will host the regional semifinals and final.

Still, the flowers and balloons and being introduced before the game made it pretty clear this was a special night, something that was not lost on Hansen and Turner.

“It’s very weird,” Hansen said. “I’ve been playing basketball ever since I could pick up a ball. It’s my senior year, and it went by so fast.”

I told Maddie the years don’t go by any slower as you have more of them under your belt. But it helps when you enjoy them as they go along, and the best part of listening to her was finding out her memories have nothing to do with winning a particular game.

“I have a lot of good memories, from the bus trips to being on the court with all of my teammates,” said Hansen, who scored 11 points against Western. “I feel a lot of close relationships and friendships with them, and I’ve always had good coaches that have supported me, and I could not do it without them.”

“I’ve played with these girls since my freshman year, and we’ve gotten closer and closer every year,” said Turner, who said she did not play basketball before high school. “Whenever I get upset about anything I do wrong, my teammates have always had my back. They’re like, don’t worry about it and just keep going.”

Turner credits her sister, Jessica, who graduated in 2018, for getting her into basketball, and she will take some lessons from her four years playing for the Trojans with her to college.

“Just always push and push no matter the score and no matter what you’re doing,” Turner said of what she learned from coach Bob Hopkins. “Give it your all, and play with your heart.”

The Trojans will open Class 3A Southern Region Tournament play Tuesday at home, likely against Sunrise Mountain. The regionals have not been kind to the Trojans the past two years; as the No. 1 seed from the Sunset League last year, they defeated Virgin Valley 47-26 in the opening round before suffering an ugly 29-24 overtime loss to Moapa Valley in the semifinals.

The year before, again as the Sunset’s No. 1 seed, the Trojans were beaten at home in the opening round by Chaparral, the fourth seed from the Sunrise. Needless to say, Hansen and Turner want more for their final season.

“We were so close last year, and we just kept getting closer every year, and during the summer we all were putting in the work, and coach Hopkins was always talking about going to state, so that was always our goal,” Hansen said. “In the offseason and during the season, we were always talking about state. So that’s always been our goal, and we’ve been working on it nonstop.”

Turner put it more succinctly.

“We’re going to get that state title,” she said after scoring 5 points, all during the third quarter, against Western. “That’s what we want.”

There will be no state title or trip to the region tournament for the boys team, which extended its streak of non-playoff seasons to 12. But don’t think for a moment that the boys took less from their experiences than the girls did.

“I don’t really care about the lack of success in basketball,” said Odegard, who has tasted some success during cross country and track seasons over his four years. “I have fun and the team is a brotherhood, and that’s just a great part of the sport.”

The losing didn’t get to Dilger, either.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s about team chemistry and getting through it as a team.”

Lindberg even found something positive out of the program’s struggles.

“It’s just mainly showing future generations that we’ll still come out and give our all, to give an example for them to see that we still try and they can exceed our expectations,” he said.

Lindberg had a terrific game in his final home appearance, leading the Trojans with 11 points. Most were on the inside, but he also hit a 3-pointer, just his third of the season. Twice he scored while being fouled, both times converting the ensuing free throw. There also were 4 rebounds.

Fittingly, Lindberg fouled out with 4:33 left in the game, giving the home fans a chance to show their appreciation.

“I got really lucky tonight,” he said.

Bull. And even if he did get lucky, it’s only fair, as Lindberg missed time with a concussion and was battling illness Monday night.

Lindberg anchored the Trojans’ defense in soccer and took most of the throw-ins — often right on-target into the penalty area — and many key free kicks. On the basketball team, his work ethic stood out on a team full of hard-working players. This spring, he will join Dilger on the golf team one last time. Lindberg finished 11th in the Class 3A State Tournament last spring, while Dilger tied for 17th.

And if the fans had a chance to show appreciation for Lindberg’s efforts, the appreciation was a two-way street.

“The home crowd, having all the support behind your back,” he cited as his best memory of high school basketball. “It’s a great feeling. There’s nothing like it.”

Alone among the seniors, Sparkman did not play basketball before this season despite a 6-foot-4 frame much more suited to banging around under the basket than the team’s next-tallest player, 6-3 junior Logan Gavenda.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got comfortable with everybody, my teammates, I had a great time,” Sparkman said.

His playing time increased as the season went on, and coach Dan Clift marveled at Sparkman’s consistent improvement each week.

“I didn’t miss a lot of practices,” Sparkman said. “I was working hard, and the coaches saw that. They put a little trust in me and put me in the games to show what I can do.”

Although the girls will win more games this season than the boys have won over the past four years, the boys agree they have good things to take away from their basketball careers.

“Getting along with people, speaking out, being a team leader,” were Dilger’s lessons.

“Leadership skills, for sure,” said Odegard, whose efforts on both ends of the floor more or less require him to be a leader. “I’ve never been a vocal kid. I’ve always been a quiet kid. I’ve had to step up, and coach Clift has definitely brought that out of me.”

“I grew as a person, and my teammates helped me,” Sparkman added.

Dilger is still looking at colleges, and he has had a few offers to play college golf. Odegard is also undecided on a college — Baylor and Purdue were among his visits — but he wants to study commercial aviation.

Hansen intends to stay close to athletics, planning to study physical therapy or athletic training, although she also has not decided on where that will happen. Turner, who will run track and play basketball at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, wants to be a veterinarian, possibly opening her own animal shelter or hospital.

After “enjoying my last high school summer,” Lindberg figures UNR is a likely destination. His plan is to go into a STEM field and get a teaching license. Sparkman very honestly said he was not yet sure what he will be doing after graduation.

It’s OK, Jerrick. I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up, either.

Perhaps the best endorsement of their high school basketball careers is Turner’s desire to replicate the experience at the next level.

“Probably the connection I have with the girls,” she said of what she will miss the most. “When I play next year, I’m not going to have the same connection right away. Hopefully, gradually I will get to that.”

Oh, and the games? The girls won by the absurd score of 57-2 led by Kate Daffer’s 20 points, the second time in five games she reached 20. The boys lost 67-35. But on Senior Night, it just didn’t seem to matter all that much.

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