WATERTOWN, SD -
Sioux Falls Christian came up just short of following up tragedy with triumph at the State-A girls basketball tournament in Watertown on Thursday.
The Chargers lost to top-seeded Harrisburg in the first round of the tournament, less than two weeks after the crash that killed teammate Alyssa Vollmer and three other family members.
The Sioux Falls Christian girls had their work cut out for them being the lowest-seeded team in the tournament. They fell to Harrisburg 60-52. But what they've overcome emotionally over these past two weeks far outweighs this loss.
Team spirit is lively and loud during tournament time. But the cheers for Sioux Falls Christian are an emotional release from the tears they shed just days earlier following the death of Alyssa.
"We let school out early today [Thursday] so the kids could come up here. It's been positive for the student body. It helps in the healing process," Sioux Falls Christian Superintendent Jay Woudstra said.
Fans wore jerseys of bright green, Alyssa's favorite color, to honor their fallen classmate and teammate.
"I have a niece; she played basketball with her, with Alyssa. Very sad, very sad. But they're doing the best they can after losing her," fan Carole Brunsting said.
Sioux Falls Christian players would have to set aside their grief for the time to focus solely on basketball if they were to beat the favored Harrisburg team.
"They lost a great teammate. It was their goal to get here for a state tournament. It was Alyssa's goal as well and I think they're just going out and doing their best," Woudstra said.
Sioux Falls Christian included a picture of Alyssa in the team photo in the tournament program to show that she's still part of this team and this school.
"And she always will be, even though she's not here physically," Woudstra said.
Sioux Falls Christian got off to an early lead. But Harrisburg would come back to win, ending the Chargers hopes for a state title.
The players may have walked off the court with heavy hearts, but they can take comfort in keeping the score close and memories of Alyssa even closer.
"That's how it is. The girls will be fine as long as they played the best that they can," Woudstra said.
The tributes to Alyssa didn't end with that game. In the very next tournament game, members of the Aberdeen Roncalli team wore her number 22 on their sneakers.
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