El Dorado’s varsity girls’ team could’ve gone into the tank on Jan. 26, when sophomore post Lauren Nelson suffered an injury against White Hall and was lost for the season. Instead, the Lady Wildcats captured the No. 4 seed and will host Hot Springs Monday in the 5A South Tournament with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
One reason El Dorado was able to stay competitive after Nelson’s injury was . . . Nelson. Coach Jae Kell said her presence has been felt just as much from the sideline.
“The thing about Lauren is she’s never going to give up. She’s been at every practice. She has been at every game on the bench, cheering for her teammates and still being that vocal leader that she was before,” said Kell. “She’s got such a great spirit about her that our team feeds off of. Right now, they’re playing for her. Instead of without her, they’re playing for her.
“It’s good to see our team come together like that. I mean they’re all friends outside of the gym. Just seeing them play and her still encouraging and being on that bench is exciting and has really helped our team.”
Two more reasons for the Lady Wildcats’ success have been the play of sophomore Mallory Whitten and junior LaStasha Holmes, whose roles have grown in the post since Nelson’s injury.
“They came in in a tough situation. They have stepped up big time,” Kell said. “They’ve always been willing to do whatever it takes for the team. They’ve stayed after practice to get extra shots. They’ve worked after practice to get their post moves right. They’re doing the extra things that really are helping our team.”
And when either of the post players return to the bench, there’s usually a teammate whispering in their ear.
“Lauren thinks she’s a coach anyway. Even beforehand, she was already doing that. We make a joke saying, ‘Coach Lauren’ because she is always trying to be a coach. She’s just stepped right into that role,” Kell said with a laugh.
“I told her that’s not the role I wanted her to be stepping into, though. It’ll be better to see her out on the court next year.”
Of course, leaders are only effective if someone follows. Kell said the other players are more than receptive when Nelson speaks.
“She is a leader, just point blank,” said Kell. “She wants to be a leader. The kids adopted her as a leader. She’s a good kid, a great kid. Our kids know that. They know Lauren wants the best for them, too.”
Before Monday’s do-or-die matchup with Hot Springs, the Lady Wildcats have a home game scheduled for Saturday against Sheridan.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. with JV boys followed by varsity girls and varsity boys at Wildcat Arena. The game won’t factor into the league standings.
“I hope that we get to play it,” said Kell. “The goal, right now, is to play it. With weather and everything, you never know.”