Patriots Celebrate Senior Night with a Win

Despite a rough start, Stevenson prevailed over the Warren Township Blue Devils with key contributions from Nisha Musunuri ’25 in the third quarter.

Mandy Meliker ’23, Letha Kothapali ’23, Kate Arne ’23 and Bri Welter ’23 stood center court beside their families to be honored for senior night before the game on Jan 23. Parents and students alike struggled to hold back tears as they reflected on their time with the program. This team has a lot to remember: close wins, tough losses and more prominently their 2022 IHSA State Championship.

Led by alumni Simone Sawyer ’22 and Ava Bardic ’22, the girls basketball team brought home the State Championship in April of last year after a grueling playoff run. However, for the players, the memories they made along the way are what stuck with them.

“A lot of people are going to [remember] state,” Kothapalli said. “But what you don’t know about state is the memories and bonds I’ve created with my teammates and it brings me a lot of joy that I have these girls in my life.”

The senior night celebration was full of laughter and heartfelt moments. However, when the referee threw the ball up in the air to start the game, the team knew they had business to take care of.

With the permission of Pep-Band director Mark Hiebert, Ryan Lemberg ’23 leads the band during halftime. The Pep-Band has come to most home basketball games and shown their support to the team. (Ansh Aggarwal)

To start the game off, Warren was handling business. They became the first team to score, with Faith Gaston getting in the passing lane and finishing at the other side of the court. Gaston picked off another steal and dished it out to an open Mariah Phelps, who hit the unguarded three. The subsequent play, Stevenson’s defense gave Phelps too much space again as she took it to the rim, making the heavily contested layup to put Warren up 7-0.

“I think senior night contributed to the way we played in the first quarter,” Nisha Musunuri ’25 said. “Our pregame routines were different, so I think most of [our struggles] was that our mental game [was off].”

Stevenson started off slow, missing several shots they normally would make. After a scoreless first half of the quarter, coach Ashley Graham shouted ‘wake up’ to the team. Stevenson played with newfound urgency and got their first points of the night when Klatt took it to the rim and got fouled, making both free throws. Getting deep into the post, Stevenson got the ball to Klatt who took one dribble and made a quick inside score to make it 12-4 with under three minutes left in the first quarter.

To start the second quarter, Klatt converted a putback off a missed Patriot shot. The ball found its way to Emma Brooks ’24 who was left wide open for the corner three. Left open once again in the same spot on the subsequent play, Brooks yielded the same result. A quick pull-up three from Musunuri put the score at 21-17 in Stevenson’s favor near the end of the second.

Students fill Stevenson’s fan section during the game, dressing colorfully to root for the players. Among the student section, many seniors showed up for the game to celebrate the success of seniors on the team. (Ansh Aggarwal)

After the halftime break, Musunuri started where she left off with another made three in transition. Sydney Rosland ’25 dished the ball to Arne in the post, who found the wide open Klatt to the left for the easy score. On the next play, Arne hit a quick turnaround fadeaway which was followed up with Brooks hitting another corner three to put the score at 35-30 in Stevenson’s favor. Another Musunuri three gave the Patriots a double digit lead 40-30 late in the third.

Despite the 10 point difference, Warren wouldn’t let up, with Nari Powers hitting a three to get them back into the game. Shay Love added to the momentum with a score down the lane.

Despite their success on offense, Warren’s defense couldn’t stop Musunuri as she hit another deep three to extend the Patriots’ lead. Some of Musunuri’s magic rubbed off on Klatt as she hit a deep contested three right at the buzzer to put the score at 48-35 to end the third quarter.

Musunuri started the final quarter with a deep three, hitting nothing but the net. Musunuri was in a realm of her own as she showed no mercy with another deep three, forcing Warren to call timeout with the score at 57-48. Musunuri had 25 points on efficient shooting from the three point line.

Stevenson’s 3-point success has been a key factor to their recent wins. To start the season off, the offense relied heavily on inside scoring from Klatt and Arne, which made it easier for the defense to stop as they knew what was coming. With shooters like Musunuri able to consistently hit multiple 3-pointers each game, a major burden has been lifted off Stevenson’s post players.

“[Warren Township] played us in a zone which we’ve been seeing more and more this season, but it’s definitely something that we’ve had to adjust to because last year most teams played man defense against us,” Arne said. “Looking for [open teammates] around the 3-point line has been a big component in our recent success because our 3-point shooters have really been stepping up and showing their capabilities.”

As the fourth quarter came to an end, the packed out student section started chanting “Lekha! Lekha! Lekha!” Kothapalli had recently suffered an arm injury and was unable to play in the senior night game. However, Coach Graham subbed her in the last 10 seconds to finish the game.

“I thought it was so special,” Kothapalli said. “It brought me a lot of emotions and it just meant so much to me for my friends to come out and really support me.”

After much insistence from the student section, Lekha Kothapalli ’23 checks in for the final seconds of the game. Due to an arm injury, Kothapalli could not play for most of the game. (Ansh Aggarwal)