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TOLONO – For some, the adaptation to a different location and a different set of peers can take a while.
Not so such for Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s first-year head girls basketball coach Clarissa Gross, who took over the Panthers’ squadron after coaching Mitchell High School in southern Indiana.
The task of developing a relationship came relatively easy to Gross. She says, in fact, that she has developed a relationship with her team that goes beyond a working one.
“They’re like my daughters,” Gross said.
Gross’s “daughters” produced a 2012-13 season that saw PBL accomplish something it has done only a handful of times in its history – win 20 games.
The 2002-03 PBL team coached by Don Shields went 24-7 en route to a regional title. In the decade that followed, the Panthers accomplished the 20-win feat twice – this year and in the 2008=09 season, when they went 21-6 under Gross’s predecessor, Travis Duley.
Although this year’s PBL team could not achieve a regional title like the 2002-03 team did, Gross said her team should be proud of the season it achieved.
“Words can’t express what this season has meant to me,” Gross said. “Twenty wins is something that they should not hang their heads about at all. They should be proud. I just told them (after the regional title game) they had nothing to hang their heads about. Obviously, 20 wins is something that not many teams can say that they accomplished. We won 20 games. That’s something that’s pretty phenomenal. There’s nothing at all to hang our heads about. The girls worked hard and are very deserving (of praise).”
Still, Gross said, the sting from PBL’s regional title loss remains.
“It’s hard to see them hurting,” Gross said. “When you see them hurting, it obviously kills you inside. It breaks you down. I just told the girls (as the final minutes wound down) that I love them, and I genuinely do. I care about those girls.”
Winning 20 games next year might be a tall order for PBL, as it will lose a great majority of its scoring via its five seniors.
Amanda Ypya plans to attend college and major in construction management, according to PBL’s Senior Night program. Erin Lemley will attend Parkland before moving on to Illinois State University to major in elementary education.
Those two girls, along with everyone on the team, were a vital part in (our 20-win season),” Gross said. “Erin Lemley and Yip were catalysts that really got the girls on the right track mentally early on when we were working this preseason’s summer and fall.”
Andi Lemley, Kandace Hofer and Sara Kennedy have also played their final game in a Panther uniform.
Like her sister Erin, Andi Lemley looks to attend Parkland. She aims to transfer to the University of Illinois via Parkland’s Pathways program to major in crop science.
Hofer plans to major in paralegal studies at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale while Kennedy aims to attend Eastern Illinois University to major in either psychology or English.
“Those seniors are leaving big shoes for our underclassmen to fill,” Gross said.