‘Don’t cheat the bloodline’ Skyline seniors hope to continue Eagle legacy
Feb 05, 2020 11:50AM
By Travis Barton
Seniors (from left to right) Claire Whisenant, Amit Lustgarten and Kate Vorwaller are part of an eight-person senior class. These three lead the backcourt for the Eagles as they strive to return to the summit of 5A basketball. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
When these eight Skyline seniors were freshmen, they ended their season storming the Salt Lake Community College basketball court to celebrate a state championship.
Even though only a few of them saw playing time that year, those few months gave them extra meaning.
“It really made us feel like we were a part of something bigger than just playing at the high school level,” remembered senior Caitlin Bilanzich.
“That was so fun,” added senior Abbie Loosli. “We really looked up to the older girls, they played well together and worked hard so that was something we always wanted to achieve.”
Fast forward three years. Not only are all of those freshmen still on the team, but they have a legacy to uphold.
“We say, ‘don’t cheat the bloodlines.’ There are girls before us that have won state and it’s our privilege to play,” Bilanzich said. “We don’t want to give that up, we want to take (state) every year too.”
Skyline girls basketball has a history littered with success. Since 2006, the Eagles have been in five state championships, winning three of them (most recently in 2017, these seniors’ freshman year). Senior captain Claire Whisenant remembered feeling “intimidated and nervous” coming in as a freshman, but the older girls took them in “and treated them like family.”
“It’s really important to remember how meaningful it was for them to actually care about us,” she said. “We’ve tried to pass that onto our younger girls, treat them as part of the program and not as some little freshmen that we’re above.”
Remembering the program’s former leaders still plays a role for senior Kate Vorwaller who, along with senior Amit Lustgarten, saw some playing time as freshmen.
“I still think about them a lot as we lead,” Vorwaller said. “I definitely remember their examples and can think of a number of girls that really shaped me and inspired me at that young age.”
This senior class now strives to uphold those leadership standards, said senior McCall Skinner.
“There are certain things you have to do to keep the team accountable to make your season successful,” Skinner said. “As seniors I think we've done a really good job of enforcing it, but not in an overpowering way to still make it fun.”
Coming into the program, these girls were fully aware of the lofty standards.
“(Skyline basketball) had a reputation of a lot of hard work that will lead to success,” Whisenant said. “The expectation was always to be great after putting in a lot of hours together.”
Over four years, and multiple years playing together on youth teams, these girls have spent countless hours together developing a chemistry they describe as similar to a family or sisterhood.
“(The chemistry) definitely wasn’t easy, definitely didn’t come naturally,” Bilanzich said. “McCall (Skinner) and I are best friends now, but we hated each other as freshmen.”
Having eight seniors on a soccer or softball team is normal considering how many play on the field at one time. But in basketball, where only five play at a time, it’s an anomaly.
“It feels really special,” Bilanzich said.
All eight have been in the program since they were freshmen, something that looking back, they didn’t expect. But now couldn’t imagine it any other way.
“I think all of these girls need to be on the team at this time,” Loosli said. “If any one of us was missing it would feel like it wouldn't be complete because we've all been here for so long.”
Added Vorwaller, “I can’t imagine playing basketball without (them). It’ll be really weird to move on playing basketball without them because they’ve been a face I’m so used to seeing on the court. It means a lot to us to be together.”
Being together for so long can make for an interesting personality to the group, let alone as individuals. “We have a really fun personality,” said senior Bella Roden, while Vorwaller said, “Everybody is funny in their own way.”
But there was definite consensus on who the quiet one was: sharpshooting senior Emma Clark.
“I am the quiet one and serious and stoic, you can never read me. That’s me,” Clark said.
Vorwaller said Clark is “fierce, really composed,” but if Clark gets mad or slams the court, “you know it’s a big deal,” interjected Whisenant.
Whether it was winning the state championship or winning a tight freshman game against Judge Memorial in the final minutes, the seniors’ careers are filled with special moments.
“Not one game or win or loss stands out to me,” Loosli said. “But just being with these girls everyday.”
After a sophomore season that ended in a heartbreaking semifinal loss and an injury-riddled season a year ago saw them miss the playoffs, this season has the chance to reestablish Skyline basketball as a championship contender. “Last year was a building year so we know what we want this year and we're ready to do everything we can to achieve it,” Lustgarten said.
But to do so will require game to game consistency, communication and good ball movement.
“If we make our teammates look good, they’ll make us look good,” Lustgarten said.
That chemistry though, could be the team’s greatest strength.
“We have a really special bond outside of basketball,” Whisenant said. “So, just trying to make that carry over, that we still have trust and faith in each other on the court. So when things start to go the other way when momentum is shifting, instead of pulling apart, we come together.”
The girls were 11-4 (7-1 in region) and ranked No. 5 in the RPI (ratings performance index that seeds the playoffs) as of Jan. 27. They had a few goals in mind to end the season.
“The ultimate goal is obviously state,” Skinner said. “But it’s also that our friendship and chemistry stay together so it can carry onto future teams, so they can look at our team and say it looked fun. Set the next years up for success.”