Emotional farewell to a 'fun' Huskies season

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 2/17/24


In a matter of two minutes, everything dramatically changed for Highland’s girls basketball team one night last week.

Smiles turned into tears.

Loud cheers in the …

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Emotional farewell to a 'fun' Huskies season



In a matter of two minutes, everything dramatically changed for Highland’s girls basketball team one night last week.

Smiles turned into tears.

Loud cheers in the bleachers turned into silence.

A fourth quarter lead against North Cedar turned into a four-point loss, thanks to a couple of 3-point shots on a career night by North Cedar senior Addison Shields.

As Shields was mobbed by her teammates following a 22-point game in which she hit the game-winning shot with 23 seconds left, five Huskie seniors sadly walked off that court in what turned out to be their final game.

There are no words.

This is March Madness.

Except in February in Iowa for every single high school team across the state, it’s February Madness.

Jubilation and disappointment.

And a goodbye.

Highland senior Sarah Burton had a double-double in her final game, 18 points and 13 rebounds. Her senior teammate Stella Slaymaker also scored a double-double. Kerra Longbine, another senior, had a game-high 4 assists.

But this wasn’t about stats. Or even about losing.

It was more than that for Burton and Slaymaker and Longbine and Kylie Allen and Kelsi Cerny, all Huskie seniors.

“This season was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had out of all four years,” said Burton, who was the top rebounder in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference North and second in points. “I think it helped that we all had fun. We have really good team dynamic. We all get along, we all like each other, we can read each other very well conceptually in basketball.”

They had begun with each other back in middle school, playing at the junior high gym that is just down the hallway from the main varsity gym at Highland High/Middle School. They walked those hallways every day since before they were even teens.

No, this night was more than numbers shining down from a varsity scoreboard.

“These girls had a great season for themselves,” head coach Jody Fink said. “They all grew quite a bit. They were great girls.”

The record will show that these Huskies won more games (14) than a Huskie team had since 2019, when none of them were in high school yet. They won their first four games and six of their first seven.

“We weren’t winning by a ton,” Burton said, “but we were still beating teams and holding them under a pretty good average of defensive points.”

And with a starting lineup that consisted of four or five seniors, depending on the game, the team’s leadership was everywhere on the court. Fink had five coaches on the court.

“Coach Fink does a good job at not putting a lot of pressure on us,” Burton said. “He’s one of the best coaches that I’ve ever been coached by just because he knows the mental game of basketball and how it can be very impactful.”

A big night arrived for Burton on Senior Night, when she scored her 1,000th career point in a win against Winfield-Mt. Union on January 30. She scored 21 points that night, but point number 1,000 produced one of those special memories.

“Getting it on Senior Night was a big deal,” Burton said. “I hit it, and I looked over and saw the crowd. Everyone was just there cheering me on.”

Burton, who is one of the state’s leading base stealers in softball and is a state long jump champion, knows the history. Highland 2019 grad Alyson Stokes scored more than 1,200 points and is a Huskie whom Burton treated as a role model growing up.

“I definitely look up to Aly a lot,” she said. “I kind of compare my stats to her and I’m like, ‘OK, I want to be her when I’m older. I need to do this to improve.’ “

In four years, Burton never missed a start.

And she recognizes the future.

Her cousin, Katelyn Thomann, made the varsity as a freshman this season. She played in all 21 games, often on the same night when she started for the JV team, and her 17 3-pointers ranked second on the team.

The next three years belong to Thomann and freshmen teammates Hailey Brun and Tori Smith, among others. And let’s not forget, junior Katie Herrig returns next year as the team’s leading 3-point shooter.

Burton and Slaymaker and Longbine and Cerny and Allen? You just might see them in the crowd.

The smiles will return then and the tears will be gone.

News columnist Paul Bowker can be reached at bowkerpaul1@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bowkerpaul

Highland Huskies, girls basketball, Sarah Burton, Jody Fink