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East ‘family’ wins T-RC

CREEKSVILLE – It was the season they had been working for.

When Rick Heckler took over the Northampton County High School – East varsity girl’s basketball team, he knew it would take time to build the program he wanted.

Three years of hard work later, Heckler guided the Lady Rams to a 17-10 season that included a near spotless 10-1 mark inside the Tar-Roanoke Conference, a league championship and a tournament title.

“It feels great,” said Heckler of the season. “When I first arrived, they didn’t really buy into the system that we were trying to run, but we started to this year. I’ve preached to them ‘friends on the court’ and I think that’s worked.”

The Lady Rams went even further as they described the type of atmosphere Heckler had created: family.

“We’ve grown as a family and not just as a team,” said senior Brittney Boone. “I feel blessed to be a part of a team that has so much love for the game and a lot of heart. It makes me feel wonderful to be here to say we made it.”

Classmate Dyamonique Peebles agreed.

“We’ve had ups and downs for the past three years,” Peebles said. “Basketball is my inspiration and to share such accomplishments with my teammates truly made this basketball season a success.”

Shakira Shoulars said the struggles had only served to make the Lady Rams better.

“Being part of this basketball team was a wonderful experience to me,” she said. “We had some good times and some bad, but we stayed in it together as the great team that we are.”

The team’s other senior, Ashley Boyce, said the championship was something she and her team would always be proud of.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but at the end we came together as a team and got done what we needed to,” Boyce said. “We came a long way and I am proud of the whole team.”

Junior Patrice Williams led Northampton-East in scoring and said she was pleased with the way the team advanced.

“It was a big struggle my freshman and sophomore year,” Williams said. “We began to love one another and grew as a team together. I am proud of the team. We have put East on the map with the support of others and most importantly each other.”

When the season began, the feelings about what was possible for them to accomplish was mixed. Several of the Lady Rams felt like the team would be good while others weren’t sure what the year would hold.

“I truly didn’t believe we would make it this far, but we kept the faith and carried through,” Peebles said. “It was such a great accomplishment.”

Boyce had similar thoughts.

“I didn’t think we were going to do as well as we did and make it as far,” she said. “We had a slow start, but we made it through and went very far.”

Shoulars had different thoughts.

“I had in my mind that we were going to do well,” Shoulars said. “Knowing that the seniors from other schools had graduated last year and we were a young team, we were going to go far this year.”

Boone found herself somewhere in the middle.

“At first, I knew we were going to do well, but I didn’t think we were going to go this far,” she said.

For his part, Heckler said he didn’t vocalize his expectations, but he had them set high.

“I’m not the type to tell them, but I felt like we had a realistic chance to win the Tar-Roanoke Conference,” he said.

After a rocky start, the Rams got things turned around and Heckler said he knew the team would be special after their trip to North Edgecombe in the first part of the league season.

“We were down by 12 in the fourth quarter and they came back and won,” Heckler said. “The girls never lost their composure and I think that was a turning point for us.”

From that point, the Lady Rams rolled to 10 league victories against only one loss and then earned the T-RC conference tournament championship.

In the process, Northampton-East didn’t lose a game at home in the regular season. They also earned the league’s number one seed and hosted a home playoff game, beating Jamesville 49-28 before falling in round two against Jones Senior.

“It was fabulous to have a home game and then also to get the victory,” he said. “I told the girls they should be proud because they were the number one seed.”

While the team members said they were pleased with their work as a group, they were also happy with the coaching they received from Heckler.

“He’s an easy person to come to love and adore,” said Boone. “He’s like my father away from home. He gives us that understanding. Nikki and I are going to miss rubbing coach’s bald head.”

Williams concurred.

“To me, coach Heckler was great as a coach and an individual not only to me, but to other girls on the team,” Williams said. “He’s been a father figure: always there with great advice, a firm voice and a great sense of humor.”

Peebles echoed the father-figure role.

“I think he’s a father figure; everything I looked for in a dad,” she said. “He’s been a role model, a leader and a supporter that I will never forget.”

“Coach Heckler has meant a lot to me,” Shoulars chimed in. “He is like our father on the court. He has been there for us through thick and thin, and I want to thank him for that.”

Boyce agreed.

“He was more than a coach,” she said. “He was like a father to me and I love him. Even though he might fuss, he was just doing it for our own good. He is understanding and was there for us when we needed him.”

Heckler said he was thankful for the opportunity to coach the Lady Rams.

“It’s been enjoyable watching them mature as young ladies,” he said. “The four seniors especially have maturing on the basketball and in the classroom. They take responsibility for themselves and their careers. Every one of them knows what they want to do after high school.”

The Lady Rams have grown over the past three years under Heckler’s leadership and that growth enabled them to achieve something they hadn’t before, a Tar-Roanoke Conference title.