CHESHIRE -- Seniors are supposed to be the ones having their names called in the starting lineup, the ones showcasing their skills in their final high school season and the ones with two, three and four years experience in some cases.
That's not the case for two of three seniors on the Hoosac Valley girls' basketball team. Erika Lucia and Celina Sistrunk are depth players and begin each game sitting on the sideline.
"Yeah, it is different," coach Ron Wojcik said. "We haven't really talked about it or thought about it."
That doesn't mean they haven't played a big role in the Hurricanes' run to Thursday's Western Massachussets Division II semifinal against Mahar. They might be on the second unit, but that's exactly why they're so valuable.
Often times a team's No. 6 - 10 players are young and lack experience, which can lead to unforced errors in crunch time or an inability to shake off the nerves associated. The other three in Hoosac's second five are underclassmen -- two sophomores and a freshman. Having the seniors with them has been a big reason for the unit's success.
What's more important is they've accepted their role within the team.
"Honestly, I don't mind not starting," said Lucia, who's been on the varsity since her freshman year. "I'm not one of these people who are like ‘I'm going to be down if I don't start.' Obviously who's starting deserves to start. I'm not going to step on that at all.
Sistrunk echoed the same message.
"I try not to worry about that because me and [Emily] Rosse compete, and she's just an all-around better player," said the transfer from Taconic, who's in her first year with the program. "So I really don't take too much offense to it."
When either or both are on the court, they realize they're playing with an inexperienced bunch and that translates into their roles.
"Just to keep positive and to keep them up when they're down," Sistrunk said. "Just stuff like that, not really like" anything out of the ordinary.
Anytime a senior isn't receiving the playing time she may think she deserves, there's the chance for animosity to build within the team, and that can break a team apart. That hasn't happened at Hoosac, and that also plays to their advantage.
"I think that's huge. We talk about that from Day One, and if you don't understand and basically perform your roles, the team isn't going to function where it needs to be from an attitude stand point, from a basketball stand point," Wojcik said. "People, I think, look at things always from a basketball perspective, but they forget about team morale and attitude and all those things that really have to mesh together. I think these girls have really meshed together with that."
Playing time for anyone outside the starting five is never a foregone conclusion. With Hoosac's trap and pressure defenses, Lucia and Sistrunk have played key minutes all season long. The high-energy scheme requires a lot of minutes from the second unit while the first takes a breather.
Last Friday's Western Mass. quarterfinal win in double overtime was no different. Both Lucia and Sistrunk played down the stretch, and both made key baskets.
Lucia's only point of the game came from the foul line with 4 seconds left in the first overtime. The basket gave Hoosac a three-point lead, which it needed as Hampshire nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force the second overtime.
Then, it was Sistrunk in the second extra session that scored four straight points -- her only points -- for the Hurricanes. The second basket gave Hoosac the lead for good, 62-61.
"We're all a team. It doesn't matter whether it's the second string, third string or first string," senior Tori Rumbolt said. "We all contribute."
Watching the majority of their senior season from the first row of bleachers hasn't been easy. They're both competitors, and they both want to contribute as much as possible.
"It's hard because I want to play," Sistrunk said. "But I know there's reasons like when we play good teams [coach] wants Rosse out there more, so I understand."
Contributing isn't always points or rebounds, though. It's associated to whatever the player's role is. For these two seniors, part of that is providing energy from the bench and keeping the other five players sitting beside them focused on the game.
For Lucia and Sistrunk, that hasn't been a challenge at all. It fits both of their personalities.
"I pretty much yell at them all game to keep in the game, whether we're down or up by a lot," Lucia said. "It just brings people on the court more encouragement, no matter what the score is."
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh