On Wednesday, several of those in attendance at the Region 2-A girls championship game in Chattanooga turned to one another with puzzled looks on their faces after Oneida senior Chelsea Newport was left off the all-tournament team.
It wasn’t that any of the other four Oneida players who made the team didn’t deserve it. Senior Kendyl West was the tournament’s MVP after scoring 17 points in a semifinal win over Midway and 16 in the Lady Indians’ 50-31 win over Wartburg in Wednesday’s championship game, while seniors Chloe Terry and Jayden Thomas and junior Katelyn Stiltner joined her on the all-tournament team. It’s just that Newport seemed like a glaring omission after she scored 17 points in the Lady Indians’ win over the Lady Bulldogs.
Newport’s response was noteworthy. If she was disappointed at being omitted from the all-tournament team, which was chosen by personnel from the host school, Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, she didn’t show it. Instead, she retweeted a list of the all-tournament players, adding, “So so proud of all of my teammates!!”
Instead of taking it personal, Newport kept doing what she’s been doing all postseason: playing aggressive defense, and putting herself in position to make big plays on offense. And, in the process, she wound up being the hero of the Lady Indians’ sectional win over Cloudland that returns the Lady Indians to Murfreesboro for a second consecutive year.
As the buzzer sounded in Saturday’s substate game, Newport collected an offensive rebound and sent it back through the net to lift Oneida to a 43-41 win over the Lady Highlanders.
Everybody in the gym thought regulation had ended after a shot by Kelsey Pike — who had a team-high 12 points in Saturday’s game — was just off the mark. A Cloudland defender left Newport, choosing to close out on Pike rather than sealing off Newport on the back side. On the Oneida sideline, Thomas watched Pike’s shot go up, then slapped her hands in disappointment as she turned to prepare for overtime. On the opposite side of the court, Oneida Middle School coach Jason Pike — Kelsey’s father — did likewise. Throughout the gym, everything seemed to pause. Everyone seemed to stop.
Everyone, that was, with the exception of Newport.
Newport’s putback beat the buzzer — a photo taken by Sarah Dunlap showed the ball out of Newport’s hand with two-tenths of a second remaining — and the reaction was jubilation.
“I thought we were about to head to overtime and the ball just kinda fell into my hands,” Newport said. “I was like, ‘Well, I might as well shoot it,’ and I did.”
“Chelsea was in the right spot and made the right play,” Oneida head coach Marv West said.
The 72-hour turnaround for Newport has been the story of Oneida’s season. There has been no true stand-alone star, no true go-to player for the Lady Indians. Kendyl West leads the team in scoring and was named District 3-A’s player of the year, but on any given night, opponents have to worry about a plethora of options.
“That’s the benefit of being deep,” West said after his team’s victory over Wartburg in the region championship game. “We don’t know whose night it’s gonna be all the time, whether it’s Kendyl or Katelyn or Chelsea or Harley. But whoever’s night it is, that’s who I’m playing. We’re going to ride that horse as far as we can.”
The Lady Indians’ reaction to their depth brings to mind an old quote by President Harry S. Truman: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Throughout the postseason, the Lady Indians have played just that way — unselfish basketball, not caring who gets the credit. And the result is a return trip to Murfreesboro.
In the District 3-A championship game, it was Stiltner who stepped up, scoring 21 points and being named the MVP of the district tournament. In that same game, Chloe Terry — whose role as the team’s point guard often keeps her from being the team’s leading scorer and therefore out of the limelight, though West said Saturday that she’s one of the best he’s ever coached — hit two key 3-pointers in the third quarter to spark an Oneida run. In the region quarterfinals the next time out, it was Thomas who stepped up, with a team-high 18 points. In the region semifinals, it was West. In the region championship game it was both West and Newport. And in the substate game, it was Pike … until the game’s end, when it was Newport.
The unselfish play has allowed Oneida to capture back-to-back trips to the state tournament for the first time since the Lady Indians went to three consecutive state tournaments from 2000 through 2002.
After Saturday’s game, an emotional Marv West credited his team for staying the course and achieving its goals.
“You talk about expectations,” said West, “years ago when we went to back-to-back state tournaments, you didn’t have Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, everybody and their brother talking about it, pictures of every game, hundreds of pictures of every player, all of this information out there. These girls had a load on their shoulders. I had a load on my shoulders. At times I didn’t handle it correctly. And at times I did. But these girls just found a way.”