Team of Rivals
By John Ring
They started as friendly rivals and then became the best of friends.
They came into a basketball program rightly regarded as one of the best in Illinois and are leaving it in mint condition.
And both of them— Claire Anderson and Brenna Saline— are getting ready to leave Galesburg but both have a true appreciation not only for this blue-collar town but its special niche in basketball.
“The basketball phenomenon in Galesburg is so unique, it’s like in the movie Hoosiers.” Said Anderson, who like Saline is a senior guard for the Silver Streak basketball team. “As a high school athlete, you can’t ask for a better environment. What you get here in Galesburg as a basketball player is so unlike any other small town in Illinois.”
“People say hi to you at the grocery store who you may not know and they say ‘Good game’,” said Saline. “That’s a cool thing. What’s even better is when 1500 people in the stands cheer you on at the games.”
“Day in and day out, they are the best. The best in the state. They give us a great homecourt advantage.”
Saline and Anderson are wrapping up their high school careers. “That’s weird to even hear that,” said Anderson.
They came into the program wet behind the ears as freshmen, with a wide-eyed look and an all-out desire to play their best. They’ve done just. After beating Sterling last Saturday, the two are 102-22 in their varsity games for the last three and a half years, a winning percentage of 84 per cent.
“Before Claire and Brenna, the only ones who from the start went to varsity at the beginning of the season were the Pachecos (Megan and Sarah) and Sarah Larson,” said Coach Evan Massey. “In the summer after 8th grade, it became apparent that both Claire and Brenna were two of our best guards in the program.”
“It really worked out well because that year we had Andie Allison and Jenna Bicego and they were two of our best leaders ever. So they provided them with a great understanding of what was needed to be a varsity member.”
They won the Western Big 6 as freshmen, are close to winning it as seniors, captured two Regional Championships and are currently 22-3 and ranked 8th in the State.
They took different paths to GHS— Saline went to Churchill, Anderson to Costa— but meshed from the first day in a Silver Streak uniform. “We were rivals but we’re the best of friends on and off the court,” said Saline. “I couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Claire and I’ve never had one like her.”
“I don’t either of us would have guessed we would have been this close,” said Anderson. “We were never going to be rivals out here anyway, we were going to be teammates.”
Saline worked herself into the starting lineup as a sophomore. Anderson did the same. Saline is more athletic, can be more creative on the court. She will finish as one of the top 12 scorers in Silver Streak history and will certainly be named All-Conference for the second straight season. Anderson has made herself into a top-notch three-point shooter and is one of the smartest players Coach Evan Massey has ever had.
“I thought by the end of her freshman year, Brenna would have a breakout game and score between 15 and 20 points because in practice, she was at the point where she could dominate. But it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she had a breakout game.” That occurred against Metamora early her sophomore year when Saline scored 28 points and the Streaks won an overtime game.
“Claire had a tougher time her freshman year in that she was moving from a point guard to an off guard. She really emerged as a greater force as a junior.”
Against Rock Island Alleman last week, it was Saline’s big three-point basket that ignited Galesburg in overtime. Anderson clinched the win by making four straight free throws. They combined for 39 points and helped pull off a big road win and virtually guaranteed a Western Big 5 title.
“It’s been an awesome year. We’ve had a few losses but it’s been a very good one,” said Saline. “It’s a tough conference. We won it as freshmen but not the two years after that. It shows how hard we have practiced to get where we’re at. Losing it last year was really tough.”
“Winning the conference isn’t our only goal but it’s a big one,” said Anderson. “It’s a really good feeling to win up there at Alleman. We needed to win that one. Brenna and I, we have some personal feelings on that one.”
Both remember the day they found out that, as freshmen, they would be on the varsity Streaks. “I was really, really excited about it but nervous at the same time,” said Saline. “There was lots of pressure.”
“I remember getting the letter from Coach Massey and reading it in my first block class and I came to the part where it said Brenna and I were going to be on the team and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my, God’. I couldn’t believe it.”
Despite not making State the last three years, both are proud of their accomplishments with the team, especially the way the program is today. “Going out of a program, you always want it to be better than it was when you got into it.”
“Brenna reminds me so much of Sara Wood in her approach,” said Massey. “She doesn’t hesitate to give me a call and ask if I’ll let her in the gym to shoot.”
“I also really enjoy how comfortable Claire and Brenna and Lia Anderson have become as players and leaders. They do a tremendous job communicating with me, both on and off the court.”
This Thursday night is Senior night for the Streaks. It’s one of the few remaining home games for Saline and Anderson. Asked what the biggest difference is if they looked at videotapes of their games as freshmen, neither one hestitated to answer.
“I’m more aggressive now,” said Saline. “More aggressive and more of a leader.”
Anderson’s take was a little different. “I’d say my hair was a lot longer and curlier.”
The same yet different— on and off the court.