DSHA CREATES LEADERS
In the all-girls environment, every leadership position is held by a young woman, allowing girls to shine within a sisterhood where they can safely take risks and practice using their voice while they grow in confidence. While being accountable to herself and others, each girl has the opportunity to practice inclusive, hopeful, and ethical leadership.
Dashers in leadership positions often find themselves balancing the prescribed duties of the position while simultaneously attempting to make it their own, inspiring their classmates toward a unified objective. This was certainly the case for the three senior captains of the 2019–2020 DSHA Varsity Basketball team: Alyah Garcia, DSHA ’20; Jackie Jarosz, DSHA ’20; and Jadin O’Brien, DSHA ’20.
Their capacity to influence and lead was stretched as their very big goals were forced into an abrupt change. In the end, their guidance met different needs than what they had originally hoped. Yet a season with months of putting leadership into demonstrable daily action allowed them to shepherd their teammates through adversity — with much to celebrate.
GOAL #1 | PLAY LIKE A FAMILY
When the captains are asked to think back to the beginning of their season and reflect on their initial goals, their unified response is twofold: to win a state title, but more importantly, to become a family.
“We had a really special group — a lot of us have been playing together since 7th grade,” Jarosz said. “It felt like everything was culminating with this season. We wanted to make memories, take nothing for granted, and inspire the younger girls on our team to join us. We really wanted to have a family vibe on and off the court.”
“The family part was super important,” O’Brien adds, crediting her fellow captains and Varsity Basketball Coach (and DSHA Director of College Counseling) Brian Hendricks. “To be in this together, we made sure we were working as a family toward common goals every day. Big ones and small ones.”
While the seniors were dedicated to providing a family environment for the underclassmen, Garcia shares they were, in turn, motivated by the support they received from those they were leading. “At the beginning of the season, we each put a slip of paper into a box that had the name of the person or people we wanted to dedicate the season to,” she shares. “Everyone wrote ‘the seniors’ — they (the underclassmen on the team) wanted a state title for us, and we were motivated to lead and encourage them.”
GOAL #2 | A STATE TITLE – THROUGH THE BACK DOOR
A “back door” in basketball typically refers to an offensive player without the ball who cuts behind her defender, moving toward the basket in an attempt to receive a pass for a layup.
For the Dashers, a different kind of back door was symbolic of everything they were working toward. The WIAA State Basketball Tournament takes place at the Resch Center each March in Green Bay. Teams who make the tournament get to enter through the back door.
On New Year’s Eve of 2019, the Dashers got a glimpse of this goal: they played the defending state champions Bay Port in Green Bay. And while they fell short of a win, that night was significant; after the loss, Hendricks took his team over to the Resch Center to refocus.
“We entered and exited that night through the front door,” Hendricks said. “We knew our team was special, we knew our goal was still to win state — this game did not change this.” Rather, it was a crucial time to regroup around the goal. “We (the coaching staff) told them that we were coming back, and when we do, we’ll enter through the back door. We rallied around this under-
standing together as team.”
When Hendricks was asked when he truly started to believe his team could win state, he points to the game following this loss. On January 3, 2020, the Dashers opened their Greater Metro Conference (GMC) schedule with a convincing 69–36 win against the third ranked team in the conference, Hamilton Sussex.
“We were playing with such consistent drive, with a new focus toward our goal to get to the back door,” Hendricks shares.
Nearly two months later, with only three losses on the season (all to top-ten ranked teams), the Dashers had another significant momentum shift. The regional championship against Watertown matched two top-ten seeded teams — both determined to continue their season with a win.
“These girls were working so hard — I had to work myself to match their intensity and focus,” Hendricks says pointing to the leadership of the seniors during the game. “They had the attitude that they were not losing, and when Alyah hit that shot...” Hendricks trails off, choking up a bit as he reflects joyfully on the end of the game. Garcia hit a three-point basket at the buzzer during double-overtime to send the team on to their next step toward the back door.
Next up was the sectional semi-final win against top-ten Appleton East where the Dashers forced 30 turnovers in a 74–63 win. Soon to follow was a 63–44 win over West Bend — including a 28-point lead at halftime — that clinched the Dashers’ spot in the state tournament.
“We were playing with swag,” Hendricks says of his team. “We were ready to take state.”
LEAN ON ME
Making it to the state tournament is a major accomplishment in itself — especially at the Dashers’ D1 level.
On Thursday, March 12, the team drove up to Green Bay to get settled in their hotel the day before their first scheduled game of the tournament. They arrived at 8 p.m. The tournament was underway for some of the smaller school divisions, but COVID headlines were brewing around the country — including an announcement of the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments earlier that day.
Around 11 p.m. that evening, the WIAA broke the news that the boys and girls state tournaments would be cancelled. The Dashers were in their rooms, mostly asleep at this point, until a group text started rolling to break the news. The team woke each other up and met in the hotel lobby with their coaches.
Jarosz shares, “No one knew what to say at this point. We were so sad.”
“We literally leaned on each other,” Garcia adds. “Our shared sorrow showed how connected we were as a team.” Connected like family.
Hendricks sent the team back to their rooms around midnight. But he called his captains — Garcia, Jarosz, O’Brien, and Emily Capper, DSHA ’21 — back down to meet with the coaches in a hotel lobby conference room. “We’ve relied on the captains all season — as leaders with real responsibilities. They have essentially been an extension of the coaching staff, and we needed their perspective. The team needed them,” he shares.
“Coach asked us as captains what we wanted to do the next day,” O’Brien shares. And while Hendricks offered a hike or an escape room — something to remind them they were a family — the team had a different idea. “Jackie said she wanted to touch the back door,” said O’Brien.
As Hendricks recalls the conversation, he speaks slowly and fights back tears — out of love for his team; respect for their approach to adversity and disappointment; and for the leadership of his captains as they would guide the attitudes of the other girls.
THE GREATEST GAME NEVER PLAYED
The next morning, the team drove to the Resch Center. They were able to take photos in front of the back door, but they were told to enter through the front.
The team the Dashers would have played that night — the team that helped reaffirm their commitment to a state title on New Year’s Eve — walked in right behind them. Bay Port had the same idea — to face the adversity with a positive outlook and to celebrate a season well played.
Hendricks approached the coach from Bay Port and asked if they wanted to run through starting line-ups on the Resch Center court. Their head coach responded with a better option: “Do you want to play a game?”
There was no basketball to be found. Rather than walking away with another disappointment, the girls played an imaginary game — with starting line-ups, a tip-off, and pretend possessions running up and down the floor.
The senior captains did not get their state title, but their approach allowed for both closure and celebration.
“From the very first practice, coach was talking about being at the arena, that our hard work will have paid off. Being so close and being physically able to be there was so important,” Jarosz shares.
Garcia agrees, “We were all sad about the season ending so abruptly, but we still felt a real sense of accomplishment. Being there, standing on the court was such a surreal moment. I was overwhelmed with joy. We felt sad we wouldn’t be able to bring a gold ball back to DSHA, but playing that (imaginary) game allowed us to look back upon the season and see the great accomplishments.”
“Both teams showed a lot of maturity and good sportsmanship — we all wanted the title. I’ll never forget it,” O’Brien adds. “Because of that morning, we were able to talk about the good the whole way home.”
NEW PATHS + BUILDING CONNECTIONS
As the senior captains were asked to reflect on the season, they all express gratitude for the challenges they have faced, along with the community they have faced them with.
“Sports have always taught me a lot about life — the importance of teamwork in the bigger picture,” Jarosz shares. “The destination won’t always come, but what you’re working for matters anyway. I think we made the journey worthwhile together.”
O’Brien points to her faith as something she has leaned on in gaining perspective on the season: “I might not understand everything right now, but I trust that God has the greater good in mind. These challenges will make us stronger. The DSHA community has allowed us to flourish — we have worked so hard and have had so much fun as a team. We’ll have this forever.”
Garcia also points to the community she has helped form. “My senior year season has showed me what love is; what trust is; what family is. Every day we were able to strengthen our relationships on and off the court.”
As Hendricks reflects on the season he points to the same. “They would not have made it this far unless they were a family. I want them to look back and see that it wasn’t about a top player or an individual accomplishment — though there were so many. We were one team,” he says. “I hope they remember the dance parties and dinners at Culvers after home wins, the service projects and team devotions. I hope they remember that a terrible situation allowed them to come together and take on adversity as a unit — and to keep fighting the good fight in every situation. This was bigger than basketball.”
The “Leader” DSHA Quality of a Graduate is in part defined as “bravely forging new paths and building new connections.” The senior captains certainly answered the call to both as they led their teammates in love; demonstrated hard work toward a unified goal; and rose to unexpected challenges with a community perspective in mind. Their season was, indeed, bigger than basketball.
DSHA Varsity Basketball 2019–2020 Season Highlights:
- 23 wins; 2nd most in school history
- Most 3-pointers made (231) as a team for a season at DSHA
- Highest average of points/ game (70.8) for a team in a season at DSHA
- Service projects:
- Kept score at Special Olympics basketball
- Served at Ronald McDonald House
- Offered basketball baby-sitting for parents in the DSHA community
- 11 out of 14 players were GMC Scholar Athletes, most in GMC conference (junior or senior with 3.5 GPA or higher)
- Jadin O’Brien, DSHA ’20, 1st Team All-GMC; 3rd player in DSHA history to reach 1000 points and 600 rebounds; attending University of Notre Dame on a Track & Field scholarship
- Alyah Garcia, DSHA ’20, 2nd Team All-GMC; single season record for made 3-pointers (62); career record for made 3-pointers (154)
- Jackie Jarosz, DSHA ’20, Honorable Mention All-GMC; single season assist record (124)
- Alexa Jarecki, DSHA ’21, 2nd Team All-GMC