It was a rough junior and senior seasons, but three Grand Ledge senior basketball players knew they had something to rely on – themselves.
Morgan Hetherington, Megan Willoughby, and Skyy Lockhart won't be seniors at Grand Ledge High School for much longer. The trio formed an unbreakable bond on their seventh-grade basketball team and has played together ever since.
However, following an abrupt end to the 2021 season, courtesy of a COVID-19 outbreak, the three best friends began thinking about their futures. Decisions about college, majors, and living arrangements aren't far off, considering the last day of school for seniors is May 28.
Yet, before Hetherington, Willoughby, and Lockhart moved on, they needed to come to terms with their final season.
After weeks of due diligence, four Grand Ledge varsity girls tested positive for the virus, preventing the squad from competing against Haslett in the state playoffs.
It was devastating, especially for the seniors who wanted nothing more than to compete one last time.
For Willoughby, a 5-foot-6 senior shooting guard, the shutdown had been random, unexpected, and heartbreaking because her positive COVID test started it all.
"Honestly … (it) was probably the worst day of my life because I knew that my last game was taken away from me and our season; it just ended like that, and we had no clue," Willoughby said. "So, my mindset was just at an all-time low."
At first, Willoughby felt horrible, thinking she had let her teammates down. Though she soon realized it was out of her control, which helped her push forward.
Moreover, Willoughby's coaches and teammates continued to provide a solid support system.
"It's nobody's fault; it's not her fault because it's a worldwide pandemic," said Lockhart. "It's not just Grand Ledge; this is happening pretty much everywhere in the world ... we can prevent it by wearing our mask and practicing social distancing, but that's about it."
Although prior to the virus affecting three other team members, Grand Ledge head coach Beth Perez prepared for their next opportunity.
"We thought, 'O.K., well this was a weekend thing, we weren't together on the weekend,' our team should be good to go," Perez said. "So, we show up on Tuesday ready to practice, and then on Wednesday we had another kid test positive … we were like – we can't go."
Even so, it wasn't the first time the Comets experienced adversity.
Grand Ledge went through many ups and downs, awaiting the status of its season early on, leading them to create a "no matter what" mantra.
In some ways, the team's theme and early roadblocks made the ending easier to accept and appreciate.
"I was looking back, seeing pictures, and I was kind of making it worse for myself. But then I thought back, and I was like, 'I mean yeah, it sucks that we are done,' but I'm looking back at all the memories that we had, and everything has to come to an end at some point," said Hetherington. "I'm just so thankful that we got the time that we had, and I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Hetherington and Willoughby met in second grade, the same place they discovered their love for basketball, but both seem confident in closing the door on athletics.
The two plan to focus on school and are currently choosing between Central Michigan, Michigan State, and Lansing Community College.
"I don't want it to end, but I think what's smarter for me is just to focus on school this first year … I'm just satisfied and ready to start a new chapter in my life," Willoughby said.
However, Lockhart will major in communications and continue playing basketball at LCC.
It remains a long shot, but the 5-foot-9 senior center is interested in recruiting her longtime friends if they choose to attend LCC.
Though, when asked about it, Willoughby said she "probably" wouldn't take up basketball again, and Hetherington echoed that sentiment.
It's not always easy letting go, and according to Perez, they might not have to.
"Grand Ledge is one of those small enough communities that kids keep coming back," said Perez. "I had Celia Ridsdale on my bench this year, and she just graduated three years ago … I certainly would see any of these kids coming and helping out if their paths lead them this way.
"I think Grand Ledge basketball and Grand Ledge itself is sort of in their blood. I would love it if they came back; their attitudes, energy, and everything else have helped build this culture. So, if they come back in a coaching role with us, even better."