Updated: Feb 18
By Rick Menning
(Editor's Note: While readers would normally find girls' and women's ice hockey articles on my website, this week I am honored to transform Rink Raves into Court Raves to recognize a very special girls' basketball team with a very special feature story.)
MIDDLEFIELD, CT -- For Sarah Roberts and Matea Lebron, Valentine's Day 2022 will forever hold a special meaning in their hearts.
These eighth-grade girls varsity basketball standouts at Independent Day School (IDS) in picturesque central Connecticut were the recipients of lots of love and best wishes from teammates, parents and faculty as they played their last game in the Coyotes' home gymnasium.
An emotional and uplifting celebration amidst all the green and white decorations took place at center court immediately following the grades 6-8 hoops showdown against The Country School, which made the trip up from Madison to share in the hosts' memorable season finale.
Although they didn't get the 'W', the IDS squad -- which displayed its usual grit and tenacity the entire game -- was all smiles as Roberts and Lebron were each presented with a bouquet of flowers, a beautiful cake, gifts and emotional expressions of sincere feelings.
Sensational buzzer beater
Seventh-grader Gianna Monaco, whose 3-point "nothing but net" spectacular rainbow shot from the left side at the buzzer drew loud cheers and put the exclamation point to the Coyotes' tremendous effort, was the first to walk out and acknowledge Roberts and Lebron in front of an appreciative crowd.
"Thanks for always being there for our team, whether we needed a boost of energy to get us going before our game, a high-five or a fist bump at the free-throw line, or just a joke to make us all laugh during practice," said Monaco, who had a fantastic 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the contest that had just concluded. "Thanks for being two of the hardest working people on this team and for pushing (all of) us to do our best both on and off the court."
It was then Danica De Dios and Eliza Pfeil's turn to tell Roberts and Lebron how proud they are of them.
"Sarah and Matea, thank you for inspiring us, helping us through the tough times, for always having our backs, and for being great teammates and leaders," De Dios and Pfeil said. "But most of all, thanks for being awesome."
Ava Chiappetta, who like the rest of her teammates displays grit and determination at both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, typified the Coyotes' all-around style of play since the opening game at The Hopkins School in New Haven back in early December.
"You guys were the backbone to our team ... we all are very happy that you were on our team," Chiappetta said. "Thank you so much for being a part of it."
Rylie Dorsey, who excelled in her day-in and day-out dedication to her responsibilities and her overall assistance to Head Coach Ashley Lane in her role as team manager, also had wonderful words of support for Roberts and Lebron.
"I would like to thank Sarah and Matea for being awesome teammates and really good friends," said Dorsey, who kept track of the time and point totals through her scoreboard duties during the Valentine's Day match-up.
'Amazing role models'
Then sixth-grader Hannah Crocker stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park in praising her teammates.
"I would love to thank you guys for being amazing people and amazing role models to the entire middle school," Crocker said. "I hope we can stay connected as you (move on to) the next chapter to your amazing lives."
Crocker went on to refer to the soon-to-be graduates of IDS as "so caring and kind, and always there for your friends."
Carly Covey and Lyla Parkerson, who along with all the Coyotes have a passion to do their best in all the little things that matter on the court -- such as running after loose balls and forcing turnovers through their perseverance and hustle away from the basket -- pointed out what makes their eighth-grade teammates special.
"Matea always supports us in everything we do and has a lot of team spirit, and Sarah fights to the last buzzer in every single game and that's really admirable," the duo said in their tribute to Lebron and Roberts.
"Matea and Sarah have been really great leaders from the time I started to play basketball here at IDS," said Marilyn Jones in wrapping up the IDS parade of speakers giving tributes to their teammates. "They've always helped me figure out stuff with patience and kindness."
Played their hearts out
Ashley Lane, who not only coaches the squad but also serves as the director of physical education at IDS, told both Roberts and Lebron in her opening remarks that it was a joy watching them grow as athletes from never playing the sport to becoming true basketball players.
"You played your heart out today like you do every game," Lane told the Coyotes' dynamic duo. "I loved having both of you on the team ... I am sad to see you go but know that you are bound for greatness."
She went on to emphasize to the entire Coyotes team that all the little things about the 2021-22 season were actually very big things.
"The nicknames you guys (gave to each other), the songs we sang (when traveling) to away games and the stories that we shared along the way. You have changed the lives of others by just simply being in theirs."
Bolstered each and every day by the school motto "fearless learning," the IDS community salutes a group of girls' varsity basketball players who are truly fearless in their pursuit of success on the court.
Team members also include Chloe Rizzi-Smith, Anya Irani, Ginger Graham and Macy Gerry.