In Kenya, where I come from, there is a Swahili proverb that, when loosely translated, means that even the biggest task can be completed if taken on in small pieces.

This is the spirit that has been adopted by the big-hearted Principia College community, and especially its two basketball teams. Like everyone else, the basketball teams have answered the global clarion call to assist those affected by the earthquake in Haiti. The amount raised for the cause internationally was recently reported to be just over $58 million.

As good Christian Scientists, the basketball teams have taken the challenge and joined hands with many others for this worthy cause. In a home match against St. Louis College of Pharmacy, the players asked fans to pledge a donation for an assist, steal, rebound, or points.

This noble cause inspired the Lady Panthers to a narrow 55-51 win over St. Mary’s of the Woods College on January 30. Look at the statistics in this closely contested game: freshman Sarah Corbitt had five steals, eight defensive rebounds and two blocks, while sophomore Lindsay Sydness had three steals and nine defensive rebounds. These are two of the key players for a young team that is still rebuilding.

Women’s coach Sarah Jarvis says she believes it is only a matter of time before good results are realized. “The players work so hard and encourage one another,” she says.

Women's Basketball
The women's basketball team practices Wednesday, February 4 in the gym. - photo / Benjamin Chernivsky

Junior Emily Wheeler has been playing a pivotal role as a leader on and off the court. “She is a real fighter,” explains Jarvis.  Wheeler is the embodiment of mental toughness, always rising up to score crucial baskets after being knocked down.

Among the new players on the team are freshmen Jocelyn Shoemake, Dani Carney, and Shannon Briggs, who have fought their way onto the starting line. Add to this the Corbitt sisters (freshman Sarah and junior Dani) plus Wheeler, the axle on which the wheels of the team turn, and you have a good mix. In this game, Sarah Corbitt scored 18 points and had nine rebounds while Wheeler sank 14 points and had four assists.

On two particularly good days, the Lady Panthers stunned the high-ranked Spalding University, and fired on all cylinders to beat Eureka College 76-70. Eureka made the mistake of concentrating on  Sydness and forgetting the other players, who scored points by using Sydness as a decoy.

Sydness, who hails from Wellesley, Mass., has been named the SLIAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 11-17.  A 6’1” forward, she averaged a double-double with 18.5 points and 16.5 rebounds in two games.

The sister act of Sarah and Dani Corbitt gets better by the game. Dani is adept at stealing the ball from opponents and is a constant menace on full-court attack.

While the Lady Panthers hit a winning trail, the men’s team broke a 19-year record in Principia basketball history by upsetting Fontbonne 74-70 on Jan. 16.  None of the players knew about the history as they lined up for the game, but the reality sank in just after the narrow win.

The team’s first win over Fontbonne in nearly two decades added a sparkle to its confidence. The Panthers defended tenaciously and scored consistently in this game, overcoming all odds, including a very loud Fontbonne crowd.

Freshman Stanley Beal scored 16 points on 6-7 shooting from the floor and 4-4 from the free throw line. Beal recalls the win: “I really didn’t know we were making history. It felt good and the match was a cracker,” he says. Beal, in his unmistakable dreadlocks, speaks for the rest of the team, who were over the moon. This game was a highlight for the Panthers, and they continue looking for the killer combination.

Efforts from seniors Sam Douglas and Stuart Waller, junior Todd Zimmerman, and sophomore Colin Angle are beginning to pay off. Beal explains, “It is a lot of hard work in the gym. Sometimes we are not lucky but this is a team which has a lot of promise.”

The two teams have had mixed results. It has been a learning process for most of the players.  Jarvis explains that the margin against the opponents has reduced considerably: “Basketball is unforgiving, like all other games. A loss may not reflect the amount of effort which the players put in, because a game is judged by the results.”

The players believe in their ability to scale the steep wall to success, and are determined to overcome weaknesses.

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