Special Needs Athlete a Star on Senior Night
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The final score Monday night was Vineland 45, Egg Harbor Township 38. But Senior Night for the Eagles was about much more than whatever the final score turned out to be.
Megan Conover, a special needs student at the high school, has been the heart and soul of the Eagles for the past four years. She kind of does it all for the program, gets water for starting players as they come off the bench, always ready with a high-five when somebody makes a big basket; the EHT girls basketball program means everything to Megan, and on Monday night the Eagles got a chance to return the favor.
Danielle Brady, the Eagles' head coach, emailed Vineland coach Will Breese last week and explained that she wanted to put Megan in the starting lineup for the first time in her career, and asked Breese if his team would be willing to allow Megan to dribble down the court after the opening tip to attempt a shot. Breese agreed, and suggested that the teams could trade buckets before time officially began running off the clock.
"He was wonderful with that. I emailed him last week. I didn't know what to expect because sometimes through emails things get lost in the translation, but he was the one who suggested us winning the tip (at the start of the game)," Brady said. "Being a teacher himself, I think he has the same outlook."
Fellow EHT senior Katie Reed won the opening tip and dished off to Megan, who promptly drove down the court and nailed a layup on her first attempt. In true basketball player fashion, Megan got right into defensive mode and nearly stole Vineland's inbounds pass after EHT took the 2-0 lead. Megan got a second opportunity to get into the game with about 20 seconds remaining, took an inbounds pass from a teammate and scored again, calmly sinking a layup with about two seconds to go.
"She loves it. She's been here for four years and this is her passion. This is her life, and we respect that a lot. She was so excited for this night. She's emotional now because it's her last home game," Reed said. "It's inspirational, honestly. We all love Meg and she's a big part of our team. She's amazing. She's family. She comes out, works hard in practice, and we have nothing but respect for her."
The game was close throughout, as the teams were tied at 17 at halftime and Vineland held just a 27-26 lead entering the fourth quarter. But Nosaja Echevarria showed why she's the leading scorer in the Cape-Atlantic League by taking over in the fourth quarter for the Fighting Clan (8-14). She scored early in the fourth, then added another bucket off a steal to push Vineland's lead to 36-28. EHT (7-13) got as close as 37-32 when Reed scored on a driving layup, but Vineland went on a 6-0 run to take a 43-32 lead and put the game out of reach.
Echevarria, who leads the league with more than 18 points per game, finished with 33 for Vineland, while Reed led the way for the Eagles with 14 points.
But the highlight of the night was little Megan getting a chance to be the star of the show. Coach Brady said Megan wasn't shy, either, about letting everybody in school know that she was going to be in the starting lineup and would have her name announced.
"It's awesome. Megan has been with us for four years. It's really cool that despite (the loss) these girls know what is really important. This team knows what should matter. Worrying about basketball is one thing, but it's about people and becoming friends. I know they won't remember our record 10 years from now, but they'll remember Megan. Nobody can forget Megan," Brady said. "Today, I felt like I saw Megan five extra times than I normally do. She was pinballing between all the teachers. We probably had 20 teachers here tonight, and that was wonderful. It's something you don't want to miss, because it's Megan. She was really making it known that tonight was her big show."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays