When it came time for East Lansing’s three seniors — Bre’Naya Lane, Annelise Lebeda and Allie Mayes — to sub out of the game for one final time at home, they’d done more than enough to cap the night and their regular-season careers on Thursday.
Leading Waverly, 71-14, with 12 seconds left in the first half, it was time for the trio’s ovation. Head Coach Rob Smith sent three subs into the game for his seniors, who together made their way to the “EL” outlined in blue at center court, got down into pushup position, and kissed the midcourt logo.
“Really, really kudos to them for just being the glue in the program for the last four years,” Smith said after the game. “And especially kudos for them staying sharp and staying focused through all the challenges that Covid presented.”
As planned, the Trojans’ seniors only played the first half before being honored at halftime and watching their teammates play in cruise control for the entire second half.
No. 2 East Lansing remained undefeated and throttled Waverly, 92-22, on Thursday night at East Lansing High School. From the beginning, the Trojans dominated, keyed by performances from its trio of seniors — in the 15:48 of game time they played, Lane, Lebeda and Mayes scored a combined 50 of East Lansing’s 92 points.
“Well they all scored double figures,” Smith said, “and the three of them accounted for 50 of our first half points. So it was a perfect senior night.”
On Thursday, as has been common for the Trojans this season, defense led to offense. Lebeda and Mayes hounded the inbounders and ball handlers, catching steals and forcing turnovers. It took more than four minutes of game time before Waverly crossed midcourt for the second time.
And for every empty Warriors possession, there was seemingly an accompanying Trojans score. Leading 6-2 in the opening minutes, Lebeda intercepted an inbounds pass and put up a midrange jumper that her teammate, Ella Miller, rebounded. Miller was fouled on a putback attempt and made both free throws, making East Lansing’s lead 8-2. Waverly quickly inbounded. As the Warriors attempted to move up the court, Lebeda swiped the ball and this time fed an assist to Miller. East Lansing was now up 10-2.
And when Lebeda wasn’t hounding the Warriors defensively, she caught fire behind the 3-point arc. She drained a triple from her preferred spot — the right wing area — right before the seniors checked out in the second quarter. Lebeda finished with 19 points.
Joining Lebeda in the scoring was Mayes, who turned steals into nifty layups and smooth floaters at the rim.
In the middle of the second quarter, Mayes leapt up and tipped a Warriors inbound pass to herself on the defensive end of the court. She gathered the ball with her left hand and sprinted up that side of the court before cutting to the baseline with a defender on her hip and casually scoring the layup in transition — a solo fastbreak. Mayes finished with 15 points.
And then there was Lane, who Smith said did a bit of everything: Shooting 3s, driving inside, defense. But regardless of what Lane did with the ball, she was in control the whole time.
With just less than two minutes to go in the first quarter, Lane caught the ball on the right elbow and surveyed her options. She chose to drive the lane, stepping past a defender on her right, jump-stopping and Euro-stepping from left to right for a scoop-shot that put EL ahead, 31-7.
Before Lane’s shot had even been counted, her teammates on the bench were on their feet, yelling “Yeah Bre!”
Later in the second quarter, Lane put on a similar move. She drove right along the baseline and jump-stopped around a defender, putting on a right-to-left Eurostep to score after the ball had swung around the perimeter repeatedly. EL was up, 59-13, with 3:43 until halftime.
“Allie [Mayes] was slashing and Annelise [Lebeda] was knocking down 3s and Bre’Naya [Lane] was kind of a combination of those things. And they were running their lanes really well,” Smith said. “And you know, they knew they were going to play a lot in the first half. So they gave it everything they had, they didn’t leave anything out there on the table.”
By the end of the first quarter, East Lansing led 41-8. By the time the seniors had finished their work for the night, that lead had ballooned even larger, to 57.
After the game, Smith said that for three years, Lane, Lebeda and Mayes had mostly been role players. They got their minutes and fit their contributions in around established, older players.
“What people didn’t know is their role was the glue that held the team together, their basketball IQ, their chemistry, their ability to understand their role on teams where the older girls were ahead of them,” Smith said.
Now this year, as the three best players on the team, those three got to star, Smith said. And despite Covid-19 warping their senior year into something other than what it was supposed to be, the trio of seniors have starred, leading East Lansing to a 10-0 record and a good chance at a league title.
And after pouring a tremendous effort into a near-perfect first half, the three seniors got to watch the second half, cheering on their underclassmen teammates — the role players that they, the seniors, once were.