Roy Sykes / Journal westkirk2--Westminster's Courtney Powell with a layup in front of Brett Marek, Kirksville.

Courtney Powell tried to delay the inevitable. A senior guard for the Westminster girls’ basketball team, Powell walked into school Monday with her uniform in her bag and her heart broken into a million pieces. Monday was when it all came to an end. When Powell, 18 handed in her uniform, it would be the last time she’d hold her Wildcats jersey in her hands—the last time she would have a tangible piece of the program she loves so dearly in her possession. “I just want to hold onto a piece of the season,” the 5-foot-7 Powell says. “It’s going to be hard giving it back.”

She never knew what hit her. Standing in the locker room at Mizzou Arena after helping Westminster to its first final four, the reality of it all crashed over her like a ton of bricks. She, along with fellow seniors Brittany Hawkins and Alexis Grasse, slipped out of their jerseys for the last time and came face to face with the end.

It was an emotional scene. The weekend hadn’t gone as planned. Westminster finished its season at 26-5 and brought home a Class 4 fourth-place trophy—its first ever state basketball bauble. There was much to be happy about. But it sure didn’t feel that way in that moment. The Wildcats played one of their worst games of the season in their 47-37 semifinal loss to Smithville. Sure, Smithville had something to do with that but the Wildcats were missing shots they normally make. Coach Steve Stipanovich said Smithville just hit his team with some good, old fashioned man-to-man defense.

For all their troubles, the Wildcats did manage to shave a 10-point Smithville lead down to three late in the fourth quarter. That was due in large part to Powell getting into the heart of the defense and either finishing at the rim or passing it out for an open look. On the night Powell finished with 14 points, a team high, and hit five of her eight shots. One play here, one basket there and maybe the Wildcats claw their way ahead. Maybe they turn the tables. But they didn’t. Smithville answered back with its own run and took the game.

The next day didn’t go much better. In the consolation game against Miller Career, Westminster once again struggled to find its stroke as the Phoenix took third place with a 59-50 win. Powell carried the offensive load as she led the team with 21 points. On the season, Powell was always good for 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. She bettered those numbers in Columbia.

Which brings us back to the locker room, where Powell held a sweaty jersey and carried a heavy heart. “I still felt like we had another week or another year,” Powell says. “It was upsetting because we were done.”

As she and her fellow seniors talked with Coach Stipanovich, the hurt of moving on took hold. Though their coach for just the past two seasons, Stipanovich made an indelible impact on them. After the loss to Smithville, Stipanovich talked of how hard times build character. That life has its ups and downs.

Powell says it was those lessons that made the most impact on her. “I really commend him. He’s made me into a better person, I truly love him for that,” Powell says.

Powell doesn’t know what her future holds. She has some opportunities to play basketball at college but could pass on them to focus on her studies. She’d like to pursue journalism as a career. But she has to figure out if she’s ready to give up competitive basketball, something she has loved nearly all of her young life.

Powell says that she wanted to wait until the end of the school day to turn in her uniform and gear. That by holding onto it, it would delay the pain—the pain of moving on.