By Pedro Velazco
— As Eastern’s girls basketball team won the Class 2A Warsaw Semistate on Saturday afternoon, Comet assistant coach Lisa Thompson soaked up the fresh memories, and kept going back to ones etched in her mind a decade earlier.
Thompson was the starting center on Kokomo’s Class 4A state champion squad in 2003. She scored a dozen points in the championship game as the Wildkats beat Perry Meridian to finish as unbeaten rulers of the state.
“It’s funny because it’s very similar,” Thompson said Sunday, a day after the Comets beat Fort Wayne Luers in the semistate to book a date in this coming Saturday’s state championship game in Terre Haute. “It’s kind of fun because it was exactly 10 years ago, it was 2003 that we won.
“We had a highlight tape that was made, kind of documenting our whole year in 2003 by one of our assistant coaches. After the sectional I popped that in and started watching, and then last week before the semistate, I shared the portion of the semistate with the girls, just to kind of get them to see what the atmosphere was going to look like, a little bit what to expect.
“It’s kind of been cool because I’ve gotten to relive 10 years ago, but yet have new memories and new experiences with this team. It’s also very similar in the fact that the Kokomo community is very supportive of its basketball team and the Greentown community has been awesome as well.”
Greentown turned out en masse to the Warsaw Semistate, roaring support of a Comet squad that won 74-55. Thompson said the biggest similarity between the 2003 Kokomo and the 2013 Comets was the atmosphere.
“Just looking, taking a moment and soaking it all in, just looking at the bleachers being filled and people being excited and the students going crazy, that’s what took me back,” she said. “The excitement of the fans is an incredible feeling.
“The student section stormed the court and practically bulldozed the players and coach [Jeremy] Dexter over,” Thompson said. “They were excited. They were pumped. A lot of the girls got interviewed on the radio, and I know that was something fun for them.”
Thompson was driving the team’s mini-bus home to Greentown after the game when the Comets were treated to a hero’s welcome.
“She’s driving us and they caught us, the police caught us and escorted us for a good 10-15 minutes into Greentown,” Dexter recounted. “They took us all through Greentown. It was funny because the girls are like ‘nobody’s out here.’ We had to keep reminding them that they’re all in the gym. We turn the corner to see the parking lot and we had to ask one and other if there’s event going on. The event was us.”
Thompson is in her third season on the Eastern coaching staff and working at EHS. She started out working in the athletic department and has now moved into a role as a special ed teacher in the high school.
Dexter said her experiences as a player help make Thompson a valuable coach. After graduating from Kokomo, Thompson played at Indiana Wesleyan, where she was part of IWU’s 2007 NAIA national championship squad.
“Lisa’s just been an invaluable friend personally, and then from a professional side ... is so relate-able to the kids,” Dexter said. “When you can stand somebody in front of them that’s been on an undefeated high school team, an undefeated college team, won championships at both levels, this is a person you’re going to listen to if you want to do that.”
Thompson said how much she enjoys the atmosphere of the team and how hard the players and coaches have worked to get to the championship game.
“It’s a very deserving group of girls and coaches to be around and to get to experience,” she said.
As for her role, besides her experiences as a player, Thompson’s personality helps.
“I think of my role as kind of the encouragement,” she said. “Coach Dexter says I’m the calming voice. The girls say I smile all the time. I try to be positive with the coaches or with the girls. I help where I can. I work with the post players in practice and I really enjoy that. Overall, I try to be an encouragement in any way that I can.”
She does more than that, helping with detail work that can swamp others.
“She’s such a warm-hearted person, always has a smile on her face, always calms me down,” Dexter said. “Her best qualities as far as helping the program, she’s so good at organization, detail-oriented things. Just [Sunday] the amount of things she’s thought of to help us with the itinerary and the things we need to do this week is invaluable for us.”
Dexter related a story about how after the Comets won the semistate, Thompson wished she could step back into her old job in the EHS athletic office because she’d enjoy the overload of activity of the week before state.
“The busier it is, the more chaotic it is, I think the better she is,” Dexter said. “That’s what makes it so great for us, because she’s so even keel.”