Together we build

  • In good hands: Tyshell Jessie leads the Lady Railsplitters in scoring, averaging close to 20 points per game. Jessie has posted double figure scoring outputs in eight of the team’s nine league games, six of which have been wins.

  • Sisterly bond: Lincoln junior forward Kellicia Brown (left) flanks senior Aaliyah Thurman in a Jan. 17 loss to Franklin Towne. The duo, along with senior leading scorer Tyshell Jessie, have paced Lincoln to a 6-3 league record as the postseason inches closer. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

In any fam­ily, minor ar­gu­ments and dis­agree­ments have the tend­ency to erupt in­to dra­mat­ic his­tri­on­ics. However, at the end of the day, un­con­di­tion­al love and sup­port usu­ally tri­umphs, mak­ing the pre­vi­ous frus­tra­tions seem both silly and un­ne­ces­sary.

The Lin­coln girls bas­ket­ball team is no dif­fer­ent.

Though not re­lated by blood, a trio of the team’s key play­ers freely used the words “sis­ters” and “fam­ily” to de­scribe the 2013-14 unit. And like any big group of sis­ters, there are dif­fer­ing opin­ions, but not ones that would pre­vent any of the play­ers from run­ning through a brick wall for the rest of her team­mates.

“We have our ups and downs. We yell and we fight a lot, but what fam­ily doesn’t go through things?” asked seni­or guard Aaliyah Thur­man. “I think us fight­ing helps us. I feel like the cri­ti­cism we give each oth­er gives us the drive to do bet­ter. No mat­ter what’s said, we all re­spect each oth­er and have one an­oth­er’s backs.”

“When it comes time for the game, we push prob­lems aside and work to­geth­er,” said seni­or back­court mate Ty­shell Jessie. “We’re all close friends on the court, so that helps us win games.”

Ad­ded ju­ni­or for­ward Kel­li­cia “Kelli” Brown, who will take the reins of the pro­gram when Thur­man and Jessie gradu­ate: “Drama si­lences at jump ball. Play­ing with those two is ex­cit­ing, some­times frus­trat­ing and just pure fun. Play­ing with Ty­shell, that’s a battle we’ll both nev­er win, and what I mean by that is we chal­lenge each oth­er so much and push each oth­er to strive harder.”

As any coach or par­ent will testi­fy to, put­ting a dozen or so teen­agers to­geth­er every day for sev­er­al months is bound to emit some fig­ur­at­ive head­but­ting. It’s the teams that can push aside those nor­mal teen­age squabbles that sep­ar­ate them­selves from the rest of the pack.

Lin­coln is hop­ing it is one of those teams as the post­season beck­ons. The Railsplit­ters sat at 6-3 at press time (8-3 over­all), tied for fifth in the Pub­lic League AAAA Di­vi­sion with Girls High, while Dob­bins (7-2), North­east (8-2), Frank­lin Towne (10-1) and Cent­ral (8-0) sat ahead of them with still a hand­ful of games to go un­til the play­offs. The team’s fear­some trio got a taste of the play­offs to­geth­er a year ago, but ex­ited after one game, a 37-34 loss to Girls High.

“We have a burn­ing sen­sa­tion in our hearts to win,” Thur­man said. “We re­fuse to say, ‘What if we lose?’ be­cause to us, that’s not an op­tion. We want this more than any team in the Pub­lic League and we all be­lieve in ourselves. We can com­pete with the best out there. We’re ready.”

If Thur­man sounds con­fid­ent, it’s be­cause her game backs it up. In a tight 52-45 loss to Frank­lin Towne on Jan. 17, Thur­man erup­ted for 28 of her team’s 45 points, show­ing off an abil­ity to pen­et­rate in­to the lane or pull up from long range with her sweet shoot­ing stroke. In a 20-point Monday win over Ol­ney, Thur­man and Jessie com­bined for 49 of their team’s 51 points. After re­lo­cat­ing from Alabama pri­or to the last school year, she didn’t mince words about her team’s goals.

“I just want to con­trib­ute as much as I can so we can win a cham­pi­on­ship,” Thur­man said. “We de­serve it. The school de­serves it. Most im­port­antly, our fans de­serve it. I will give 1,000 per­cent when the play­offs come, and so will the rest of the team.”

Lin­coln head coach Mike Tur­chi re­ferred to his two lead­ing scorers as “dy­nam­ic.” Thur­man has scored in double fig­ures in six of her nine league games (15.6 points per game), while Jessie has hit the mark in all but one con­test, in­clud­ing a 31-point ex­plo­sion in a loss to Cent­ral on Dec. 18 en route to a 19.6 PPG out­put. Brown is av­er­aging around eight per game, but she’s proven her value the most un­der­neath; if she can im­prove her over­all re­bound­ing to com­ple­ment her en­vi­able size in the lane, Lin­coln could be a con­tender even after its top two scorers gradu­ate.

“Kel­li­cia is a lead­er and can guide this team next year,” Thur­man said. “We call her ‘the grand­moth­er’ of the team, be­cause if she sees you slack­ing, she’ll let you know right then and there.”

Brown said she was ex­cited for next sea­son, but also ad­mit­ted to be­ing “heart­broken” since she and Jessie have played to­geth­er since Brown’s first day on varsity three sea­sons ago. She men­tioned that learn­ing from Jessie and Thur­man al­lowed Brown to re­turn the fa­vor and take “fresh­man prodigy” Karla Wil­li­ams un­der her wing. At the same time, she’s not get­ting too far ahead of her­self.

“We’re con­fid­ent this year be­cause when it comes to our ‘big three,’ we think we’re un­stop­pable,” Brown said. “When we are all in sync, it’s like ma­gic.”

For Thur­man and Jessie, a strong fin­ish to the sea­son could mean play­ing bas­ket­ball in col­lege. 

“It seems like I’m nev­er in the right places at the right times,” Thur­man lamen­ted. “If a Di­vi­sion I coach saw my tal­ent, ded­ic­a­tion and hard work, they wouldn’t hes­it­ate to give me a chance. I just want one chance. I want them to see that I want the ball in my hands with the game on the line. I feel like I’m the best op­tion be­cause I stay calm, and the only thing that goes through my mind is, ‘Do it for the team.’ Every­one misses shots and loses games, but only real win­ners keep their heads up and keep go­ing.”

“My re­main­ing goal is to just do my best and to work hard for them so we can bring home a cham­pi­on­ship for once,” Jessie ad­ded. “For my­self, it’s just to keep my grades up and work hard on the court to make my­self bet­ter for col­lege with Aaliyah. First, we want to make it to the play­offs. Then, we want to go far and maybe come out as cham­pi­ons so we can make every­one proud of us.”

If any­thing, this Lin­coln squad has the de­term­in­a­tion and the tal­ent. Aside from the blo­wout loss to Cent­ral, the Railsplit­ters have been in every game; now, they are gear­ing up for what they hope is a ma­gic­al stretch run.

In clos­ing, Thur­man shared her team’s chant, say­ing it fuels the play­ers to work to­geth­er no mat­ter how many of those sis­terly ar­gu­ments come their way. When the chips are pushed to the cen­ter of the table, they fight for — not against — each oth­er.

To the last quarter, to the last minute, to the last second … We fight, we fight, we fight.”  ••

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