Emily Blaney and Abby Buckingham held the state championship high above their heads in almost pure disbelief.
Together the lone two seniors on Big Horn’s first girls basketball championship team since 2009 had won 18 straight games, ending Pine Bluffs’ hopes of an undefeated season in the regional championship and stopping the potent Wyoming Indian offense at the buzzer in the process.
Now they have one last game on the same sideline as both were selected to the Wyoming Coaches Foundation Girls’ Basketball All-Star Game.
“She actually found out first that she was going to be a part of it and I thought that was cool,” Buckingham said during Thursday’s practice. “Then I found out and got really excited because she’s my best friend and we get to play together one last time.”
The long journey to the championship and all-star week began more than a decade earlier, when the two first met while playing YMCA soccer together in first grade.
They then went to elementary and middle school together, playing on the same 3-on-3 basketball, summer traveling basketball and summer traveling volleyball teams every step along the way.
Buckingham remembered them becoming friends in sixth grade before remaining best friends throughout middle and high school.
“It’s great to have someone who is always behind you, always encouraging you and helping you through everything,” Blaney said. “It’s really a blessing to have her.”
The two of them had made the state championship their focus going into last year and those hopes got off to a rocky start. Big Horn won its first five games before losing to Southeast and Pine Bluffs on back-to-back days.
But both assumed the leadership role for the Rams and kept working hard.
Blaney, the guard, is shorter than most of her peers but stays strong on the ball with a quick jump shot. Buckingham, the post, is also shorter than the majority of girls she guards but flips the switch from bashful to relentless when she steps on the court.
They played through so much together already and wouldn’t be defeated the further the season went on.
So when the faster, free-shooting Chiefs of Wyoming Indian took as much as a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Rams had no choice but to rally. Big Horn captured the momentum late, took the lead in the final minute and didn’t allow a shot on Wyoming Indian’s final possession to seal the win.
“We were always talking about how we were going to do it,” Blaney said of the state championship, “what we were going to do and we finally accomplished that. It was an amazing feeling.”
Blaney finished with five rebounds and seven steals, while Buckingham had five rebounds and two steals. True to their friendship, they tied for a team-high 12 points.
Saturday, however, will be the end of the line of being teammates.
Buckingham will travel to Phoenix to enroll at Grand Canyon University and will study graphic design and advertising. Blaney will study kinesiology at the University of Wyoming. Neither will continue athletics beyond the possible intramural teams.
The practice week has surpassed expectations as the two share each day as all-stars.
“It’s been amazing and the fact that she is my best friend made it even better,” Buckingham said. “We’ll be able to share that memory all of our lives.”
They promise to stay in touch well beyond the fall after they both depart for their respective schools.
The possibility of an emotional goodbye on Saturday has been brought up. Blaney started playing it cool by saying, “A little emotional,” whereas Buckingham immediately responded, “Definitely.”
Through the years together, sports, classrooms or simply hanging out, the two now face one final huddle together.
“I’m just excited to be able to play with her again other than the state championship game,” Blaney said. “I’m really excited to play with her for one last time and, yeah, it will probably be pretty emotional.”
Added Buckingham: “Me and her aren’t going to the same college so I’m just really blessed and grateful to be given this opportunity and be able to play with her on the same team.”