An Oklahoma girls basketball team fought its way through an emotional whirlwind over two weekend days, earning a district championship just hours after one of its starters died shockingly from a sudden bout of pneumonia.
As documented by the Tulsa World, Fox23.com and a handful of other Oklahoma news outlets, the Vian (Okla.) girls basketball team dedicated its 2011-12 season to Whitney Miller, one of the team's most consistent and energetic performers, after her shocking death on Friday. Miller, who was crowned the school's homecoming queen in January, was reportedly taken to an emergency room on Wednesday while suffering with the flu. Two days later she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and her lungs filled with fluid and collapsed shortly thereafter. She died hours later.
That left the Vian squad less than a day to come to grips with the loss of one of its best friends before it would have to take the court for the team's most important game of the season, a matchup with Haskell (Okla.) High in which it could clinch a Class 3A district championship. Rather than attempt to reschedule the game, Vian opted to compete and honor Miller's memory, with the Wolverines fighting their way to a 63-52 win that earned the squad as emotional a title as any could remember.
The dedications and notes of remembrance Saturday night at Haskell were almost overwhelming.
The entire Vian team wore patches on the shoulders of their jerseys and included purple tape on their shoes. They wore warm-up shirts with "We [heart] 3" to honor Miller's jersey number.
Perhaps most touchingly, Miller's cousin and best friend, Deidra Smith, wore her number 3 throughout the game. The game jersey had been presented to her by Miller's mother earlier on Saturday, and Smith wore the shirt with pride for every second she could remain on the court.
"When I fouled out, that hurt," Smith tearily told the World. "I hadn't been fouling out, but wearing her jersey I think it was part of it. She would always get three fouls in the first half."
Relying on emotional drive, the Wolverines jumped out to an early 11-0 lead and never truly looked back, though they did have to withstand a furious fourth-quarter rally by Haskell to hold on for the clinching victory, a fitting final tribute to a player who all felt departed far too soon.
"She would do anything to win," Vian's leading scorer Chelsie Drew -- who finished with 17 points -- told the World. "I know she's smiling down on us right now for winning.
"Everybody liked her. There's not one person I could ever think of that didn't like her. She was a girl who joked and put a smile on our faces."
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