COLUMBIA — One of the biggest leaders on the Hickman girls basketball team is one of the smallest players. Shaunece Ballenger, only 5 feet, 3 inches tall, is the player her coach relies on to direct her teammates on the court.
“Shaun is a great ball handler and role model,” the Kewpies' Ashley Davis said. “She’s vocal, probably the biggest communicator on the team. ... Shaun tells me where I need to be, and provides encouragement when it’s most needed.”
Ballenger is not the Kewpies' leading scorer, but she is arguably the team's quickest player, which shines through on defense. Her most prominent role, though, is moving the ball offensively.
"Shaun is special because she played for Hickman all four years, and she contributed a lot,” Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said.
Ballenger and Hickman suffered a 60-37 loss against Ozark on Saturday in the Kewpies' last home game of the regular season. Ballenger, Davis and Hailey Fields, all seniors, were given flowers and gift bags as a token of appreciation for their participation on the Hickman squad.
“It was emotional, especially since we lost the last game of our career on our home court,” Davis said. “It was the last time playing competitively on this floor.”
Junior Aqua Corpening led the Kewpies (10-14) with 23 points. Ballenger scored eight and Davis and Kim Lake scored 3.
Corpening scored all 15 of Hickman’s points in the first quarter, then the Kewpies took advantage of several aggressive steals by Ballenger in the second quarter to lead 25-24 at halftime. Ozark pulled away in the second half, however, handing Hickman only its second home court loss of the season.
“We tried to get the job done, the goal was to make sure we did it for our seniors,” sophomore forward Andrea Drake said. “They play a big leadership role in getting across the important things to remember while playing.”
Ballenger’s parents and Ashley Davis’s father are Hickman graduates. Senior forward Hailey Field’s older brother and sister also played basketball for Hickman.
“They’re really Hickman people,” Mirts said. “There’s a strong Hickman connection, the parents really support the school and support the team. They are quality people, and they will be missed.”
Even after Shaunece graduates, her parents vowed to continue attending games.
“I’m a Hickman alumnus and I’ll keep on coming to the games,” Ballenger’s mother said. “I bleed purple and gold. It’s great to see my daughter play here, and I have friends who have kids here. I’m a Kewpie supporter and I’ll continue to support them.”
Hickman is set to play next on Thursday at St. Teresa’s in Kansas City.