They’ve been together for what seems like forever and on Thursday night Crane’s six senior girls basketball players suited up for their final official home game; Senior Night.
Keren Belin, Emma Lander, Justeen Mahan, Kylee Moore, Shelby Roder and Lexie Vaught; the dream team that’s produced three straight Class 2 state titles and after a 71-31 win over Ash Grove never lost a home game dating back to their 7th grade year.
“It’s bittersweet because these are my best friends,” said Moore, signed with Evangel. “I’ve grown up with them, done everything with them. That’s the part that hits home.”
“People always say it flies by so fast, but they’re right it does,” said Vaught, who will play at Drury this fall.
The girls were introduced with their parents while a special message to the capacity crowd. They were each presented a collage of pictures of their career.
A night these ladies will never forget, but extra special for one senior.
Emma Lander suffered a knee injury on December 21 at Purdy. It was decided that she tore the ACL in her right knee and would undergo surgery ending her senior season.
“This has been kind of an emotional rollercoaster, but I’m doing fine,” said Lander, who decided to play volleyball and track at Evangel. “Life is still good and you start to realize how special something is when you don’t have it any more and I’m realizing it now.”
With her surgery scheduled literally 12 hours later Lander suited up with her sisters one last time.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Lander. “I’m excited to put on my jersey again and step on the court and finish it out on my own terms with the people I love.”
Lander started the game and finished the game playing a total of four minutes. And while she didn’t score a point or record a rebound in the box score it was certainly a night to remember.
And a career to remember for the reigning Class 2 Player of the Year. Lander is also an All-SWCL volleyball player and multiple-time state champ jumper in track. Those accomplishments earned her back-to-back “1 Awards” Female Athlete of the Year honors, but it’s what she’s done off the court that has inspired so many more.
Lander got an idea during volleyball season of her sophomore year. The team always prayed before each game. She thought why not ask the opposition to join them. Since then the prayer circle has become a regular routine that continues to spread.
“It focuses us on the right thing,” said Lander. “Just remembering what’s important and who really deserves the glory.”
Her faith can be seen by all, something Lander considers THE most important thing. Little did she know that attitude toward life would change the life of a stranger.
Ron Harmon worked with Lexie Vaught’s dad and had heard about the Lady Pirates. Being a basketball fan he decided to attend a game. What he saw was much more than a game.
“To see a 17-year old have that strong of faith made me start going back to church to get the same thing,” said Harmon. “It was quite emotional. The best word to say is I was awe struck.”
Harmon considered himself lost, but Lander was the reason he turned it around.
“He saw us doing the prayer circle at a game and he said if someone can be that bold in their faith I want that,” said Lander. “His life changed dramatically because of that and that has been the most amazing thing for me because that’s a soul and that’s what really matters.”
Lander’s surgery Friday morning was a complete success. She’s on track to recover by the start of volleyball season. And while her illustrious prep athletic career is in the books Lander remains a major supporter of her girls and their quest for an unprecedented fourth state title.
"She has the best attitude I know," said Moore. "She tears her ACL and she's all positive. She'll be on the bench cheering for us, in practice watching us, every little thing she can do to make us better, she's doing."
“Going to state is not just for us, but it’s also for Emma,” said Vaught.
“It would be the best ending to a great story,” said Lander. “To end our legacy like that would be so cool, something I would be able to tell my grandkids some day.”