Most high school basketball coaches would never allow a player’s jersey to bear an individual name on the back, and the Clover girls’ team is no exception. No names on the back of the jerseys – just “CLOVER” in all capital letters.
But the gray T-shirts the team wore during warmups Friday night against York did bear a name, or at least a slogan: “#TeamHop.” That’s in support of the Blue Eagles’ coach, Sherer Hopkins, who suffered a sudden brain aneurysm in mid-December.
“No one expected this to happen,” said Shakkia Walker, who is coaching the team in Hopkins’ stead. “But once the team found out, we had a tournament in Landrum, we placed third, so I think they’re handling it pretty well. This is what coach Hopkins would want them to do. She wouldn’t want us to mope around because something happened to her, because she’s a fighter, and we’re fighting with her.”
Hopkins survived the ordeal, but it will be a slow trudge back to full recovery. CT scans, trips to Duke University for tests, and therapy and rehab are all a part of the journey Hopkins is now on. That’s where the team’s shirts enter the situation.
“We’re wearing them to show her we’re on this journey with her,” said Talliya Patton.
The team’s journey took a positive turn Friday night. The Blue Eagles thumped their rivals from down the road 44-15 to end a three-game losing skid. Sydney Sanders led a balanced Clover scoring effort with 12 points; Katelynn Kipp and Elizabeth Edmunds added eight each.
The hosts led 9-2 at the end of the first quarter, a deficit York had closed to 10-5 early in the second.
That’s when the Blue Eagles (10-6, 2-4 in Region 3-AAAA) ripped off a 13-0 run to take over the contest. Sanders knocked down a left corner 3, Patton towered over the Cougars (0-14, 0-6) for an offensive rebound and a putback, and Sanders then hit a shot in the lane to send the Blue Eagles into the locker room with a 23-5 lead.
“The key that we talked about was rebounding, communicating, coming to the ball – the simple things that we haven’t been doing,” said Walker. “I think this right here will help us get over that hump and let us believe that we’re still in this. At the end of the day, the region isn’t over. The only thing I can do is ask the girls to go out there and play hard, as coach Hopkins would want them to do.”
York coach Paula Blackwell admitted that her team, which has six underclassmen, was overwhelmed by the rivalry environment in front of a lively crowd. For Blackwell, it was a little weird coaching against the Blue Eagles but not her friend, Hopkins.
“Tonight was hard, looking down there and her not being there,” she said. “We’re rivals, we want to beat each other, but we’re close friends, too.”
Once word of Hopkins’ life-threatening situation got out, it quickly spread through the state’s coaching network.
“It could be any of us,” said Blackwell. “We’re all trying to get through it and be positive, but I think it’s brought us all back down to Earth a bit, made us take a step back from the game. Basketball is important, but this is life, you know?”
Fortunately, Hopkins is in a far better place than she was in the days immediately after the aneurysm. An online journal the family set up at CaringBridge.org has amassed almost 28,000 visits from supporters and friends. Walker is in touch with Hopkins at least once a week.
“She’s in great spirits,” said Walker. “I give up her weekly updates, but it’s just like she’s still here, she just isn’t present. We feel her spirit.”
That was evident on Friday. While Blackwell’s Cougars finally got going in the third quarter, the game’s result was almost a formality by then. When Clover sophomore Katelynn Kipp buried a 3 at the third quarter buzzer, smiles from the bench poured onto the court. #TeamHop is going to be just fine.
Clover 44, York 15
YORK Hannah Cassell 2, Meg McGarity 3, Corri Peeler 2, Makala Love 1, Heather Pumphrey 4, Keisha McClure 2, Carrie Lancaster 1. CLOVER Mecca Byrd 2, Shay Hall 2, Telliya Patton 5, Sydney Sanders 12, Eliabeth Edmunds 8, Lynsey Comalander 5, Katelynn Kipp 8, Lilly Wallace 2.
TEAM FOULS York- 14; Clover- 13. RECORDS York- 0-14, 0-6; Clover 10-6, 2-4.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T