Niagara Gazette — As the applause faded and tears dried in the wake of Jenepher Banker’s farewell as Grand Island High School girls basketball coach Saturday afternoon, one adjective infused every tribute.
“She was always prepared,” said Todd Julien, whose Pittsford Mendon team had advanced to the state’s Final Four with the aid of a crucial call as the clock struck “0:18.7.”
“The most prepared coach I ever saw,” said GI Athletic Director Jon Roth, whom she blessed with one additional year.
“She made me prepare and believe in myself,” said senior Cassie Oursler, bound for Robert Morris University, six years after Coach Banker had seen her in the school library and told her, “You’ve got to play basketball.”
Her Grand Island teams won 246 of 345 games, including a 152-62 record in the Niagara Frontier League, and seven sectional titles, five consecutively. But for this finality, not even she was quite prepared. “I can’t think about that now,” she said. “This one just hurts too much.”
The 2013 Lady Vikings’ equivalent of “wide right” or “no goal” was an endline in-bounds attempt with :18.7 left in a 37-37 game. After two time-outs, the scrum for positions prompted a rare “illegal pick” call, the ball going over to the other Vikings, who scored with three seconds remaining.
In December, few foresaw Grand Island 18 ticks away from the Final Four. GI struggled with ball control, incurring several double-digit losses. But once the team squeezed past Williamsville South, the course was set for Buffalo State's Houston Gym with three relatively easy victories.
Roth knew he had the right coach 15 years ago when she said, not yet. She needed to prepare. She studied the unproductive Island program for a year and came back with a plan for gymnasium programs in the lower grades and a staff of volunteer assistants. “She insisted,” he puts it.