With a basketball at her hip, Silverdale Baptist Academy senior forward Laney Bone stood next to coach Victor Underwood as they watched the Lady Seahawks go to work in Monday's practice.
Heartbreak struck for Bone and the team in November when she tore an ACL in the season opener. At the time, her knee injury looked like a devastating loss for the Lady Seahawks, who had to proceed without the on-court presence of the 6-foot Bone, who has 1,300 points in her high school career and averaged 22 points, 11.5 rebounds and a pair of blocks and steals each per game last season.
While being without Bone in games has been disappointing for Silverdale, Underwood's team has played inspired basketball after an 0-2 start, finding ways to step up for the sidelined Lady Seahawks star. And despite the major letdown Bone experienced when she was injured days after signing with the University of Buffalo, she has had a blast being part of what appears to be a special season.
Silverdale has won nine of its past 10 games and is 16-5 since the back-to-back losses to open the schedule.
"I just love seeing them play together," Bone said. "I see amazing leadership among my fellow seniors in everything they do. Since I am not out there playing, I try to encourage them and push them as much as I can. It brings joy to me to see how they have come together and played so well."
Four seniors have helped put the puzzle together as Tessa Gibson, Ryleigh Hoover, Becca Lamb and Gracie Renegar have played extraordinarily in expanded roles.
Gibson was a starter even as a freshman, and for the past three seasons the stellar point guard has averaged nearly three steals and more than five assists per game. She is also the unquestioned vocal leader of the bunch.
"Everybody has stepped up in a different way, from the seniors to the freshmen. We have had to take on new roles to keep up with what Laney brought to the team," Gibson said. "I know for me and Gracie, if the ball is on the floor, we are not thinking about anything else than to go all out for it. That's how we were taught, and I think the younger girls see that, too, so it makes everyone give their best on the court."
Hoover, an energetic guard, has become a feared 3-point shooter. She set a school record with eight 3-pointers in a game and tied the previous mark with seven 3s in two other games this season. After not playing much her first two high school seasons, she is now set to continue her basketball career at Covenant College.
"Ryleigh shoots all the time outside of practice, and it shows," Underwood said. "I can confidently say she has gotten more reps up in the offseason then any player I know. She has really worked on her craft and put the time in to become a great player. She has the chance to break 100 3-pointers this season, and that's crazy."
Lamb's post presence has been a propelling factor as she has been a nightly double-double threat in points and rebounds, especially this month.
With solid contributions from others as well, success has continued for the Lady Seahawks, who are 95-44 (a .683 winning percentage) in five seasons under Underwood. The current senior class has been to two straight TSSAA Division II-A state tournaments, including the first appearance in program history. Silverdale has also won its district four of the past five seasons and has an active 27-game winning streak over DII-A East District 2 opponents.
"We put togetherness and unity as a priority on this team," Lamb said. "We stick together in everything we are doing. We are having fun together and making sure we are prepared to be our best every day."
One of the boxes left to be checked is winning the program's first region championship, but the senior Lady Seahawks — Bone included — have already accomplished a lot for Silverdale and pleased their leader.
"I just want to coach these girls as long as I can," Underwood said. "They want to keep playing as long as they can, too, and are doing whatever they can to make that happen. They are always putting in max effort and extra work. We don't look ahead because we are grateful for every day we get together right now."