"Alright ladies, listen up." The coach says out loud and we all stop rummaging through our bags, or tying our shoelaces or whatever it is that we're doing to give her our fullest attention.
"The school we're about to face is tough. As the games lead to the finals, the teams we face get harder. But are we going to face them with fear?"
"No!" We all scream at the coach.
"That's right. We face them all headstrong. Play the game like it's the finals. Dismiss." With a clap she finishes and walks out the locker room and we are left to ourselves once more.
"You doing good Judy?" Tori asks. Unlike the first time where she was seated with the audience, in our recent matches Tori was always with us in the locker room and walked with us into the court and sat on the bench with the coach and substitute players.
"I'm restless. I want to go out there and play." I say giving her a firm smile. I am not going to be an unbearable sight like last time. No, I was going to play my best.
"Let's go girls." Senora's voice is carried across the room and we walk out the room in a line.
Before I zip my sports bag close, I take a quick peek at my phone.
A message from Travis.
~Good luck Jude~ T
Jude. Has he ever called me as such before? No one has ever called me Jude. It felt alien but at the same time heartwarming.
Smiling to myself I drop my phone back into my bag and follow my teammates onto the battle field.
We sit on our side of the court as we await the buzzer to go off. I stare at the score board and then at the audience.
I try to find a familiar brown head but he's no where to be seen.
What the fuck!?
Why am I searching for Travis? I'm supposed to be searching for Ava!
It wasn't hard to find her. More like she wanted me to look her way since she was popping party poppers even before the game had started.
People gave her the odd eye but she continues acting barbaric.
I give her a wave and she finally pipes down and takes a seat.
Goodness this girl.
"Where's the bro?"
I cover my mouth. But they had heard the ugly squeak that left my lips.
What was that sound?
I glare at Cassy for surprising me. She doesn't feel guilty. Instead she covers her mouth to stop herself from laughing.
"Judith?" Great, Senora must be wondering what the hell is wrong withe right before a match.
"Sorry. I was just startled. I'm fine." I say before she could ask something and make me feel like an idiot.
Coach harlot comes and stands close to the bench and everyone goes silent at once.
I've never felt happy to see her.
We make our way to the center of the court. The audience goes silent awaiting the buzzer to go off and for the game to start.
The buzzer goes off and the tip off begins with the orange leather ball tossed high into open space.
Cassy was tall but her opposing center player towered over her. But she's no match for our Cassy. Just as expected Cassy get the ball and throws it to Senora who was open. And the game begins with the crazy screams from the audience.
When it hits half time the score was tight and everyone was restless and tensed. Even the audience who were screaming the whole time went silent at the intense match before their eyes.
The referee blows his whistle and we walk to our bench. Coach had an unsatisfied expression plastered on her hard face. No one dared face her but I looked at her straight in the eye. She felt my gaze and looked my way, her gaze hardening.
Sighing I smile to myself. Her disapproved face always gets me going. I always have the urge to play even better, like I was feeling right now.
I hadn't played that bad. I got quite a lot of baskets this time and even my assistance and passes were top notch.
I join the girls after giving coach harlot a firm nod. Senora briefs us on certain attack moves and asks us to tighten defense. While she spoke to the girls, I travelled my gaze to the opposite side.
The captain, who's name was Myka, looked my way and sneered. She nudged her fellow teamies and they all looked my way. My insides twisted and I didn't like the way it was making me feel.
No. Something is about to happen.
"Be on guard girls. They're going to go rough on us." I say out loud and everyone turns to face me. They follow my eyes and it leads to an eye showdown between both parties.
The whistle is blown once more and we throw our towels aside and walk back inside.
Back in the first half, the opposing girls had sprawled all over the court. But this time they were clustering around the basket.
"Zone defense?" Nora, who was standing beside me said in surprise.
That's what they had up their sleeves. They're trying to shut us down completely.
Zone defense is when all players of a team focuses solely on protecting their basket. Unlike when you block each other woman-to-woman, in zone defense they block an entire zone making it difficult for their opponent to make shots. Only a skilled three point shooter can score.
"Thank goodness we've got a crazy three-point shooter on our side." Cassy says touching my shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
That's right. I am confident in my shooting skills. I know I won't miss. But, they know that as well. They wouldn't just set this up.
"Something doesn't feel right." I say and my girl's tense. I always have an eagle eye when it comes to opponents moves and the Hawkettes have learnt to go according to my instinct.
Senora, Cassy, Nora and Kaera stand on guard. Whistle is blown and the second half begins.
We get the ball and it's passed to me. I don't shoot just yet. It seems too easy.
"Shoot Judy!" Cassy screams and even Ava yells from the crowd.
Tsk. I can't concentrate with these screams. Oh well,
I stand in position to shoot and right when I am about to flick my wrist forth, a girl from the other side blocks my view.
In zone defense four players stand closest to the basket while one single player is in front. She can block and defend and run around. Like what this girl is doing right now.
I dribble past her and she pushes herself on me to stop me from running past. We go woman-to-woman for a couple of seconds.
"Judith no!" Senora's cry makes me turn to where she was standing for a second. I realize then what these girls were trying to do.
I was pushed back inside the three point line and when I looked up I was right beneath the basket.
"They're forcing her to defend close range to the basket. With her height she's at a disadvantage." Nora says as she comes in front to help. The others follow.
The girls defending the basket spread out and block my girls from giving me a hand.
"They're abusing her lack of height. Damnit!" Cassy shouts as she tries to push past her defender.
They were panicking. But I never go under pressure. Never.
I smile which went unseen to the ones of the opposite team but my teammates are the only ones I wanted to be seen by.
Fools. As if I'd fall prey to something so obvious. I had already predicted such a move.
Lowering my head almost looking at my feet I turn my eyes to my right coming eye to eye with Nora. She looks at me confused still trying to break past her defender and then her eyes go wide with realization.
Thank goodness she was a girl with little expression. She remains neutral and that was a plus point to us.
The annoying girl in front of me started pushing back with the ball she had stolen and right before she took position to shoot Nora and I switched places and since Nora was taller than the opposite team girl, she easily stole the ball and passed it to Kaera who was open.
Nora and I high five as I make way to assist Kaera. In the distance I could see the smile on Coach's face.
That's right coach. Don't give up hope just yet. We're only getting started.
"You were supposed to stop her from shooting Jessica." The opponent captain snapped at the girl who had been defending me.
"She was so fast I couldn't even see what kind of move she pulled." Jessica whined and I bit my lips from grinning.
The game continues with the clock ticking away. Every second counted as we tried to get a point extra than the other team. I thought they were strong but once I knew their method of playing it was easy to cook up a plan and lead my team.
Ten seconds to go. Nine. Eight. Seven...
"Come on Judy!" The loud screaming of my best friend got me grinning. I pump my clenched fist high above my head.
"Nora!" I scream her name as she prepares for a jump shot. As soon as she takes off I throw the ball to her free hands. With a gentle touch she gets the ball straight into her open hands.
"Shoot!" It wasn't just us but even the audience who were yelling along with us.
Nora shoots and just as the ball smacks to the rim of the basket and twirls around, the buzzer goes off and the ball drops in.
The crowd goes wild at the intense game that was just played. My girls run to where Nora and I was panting. Throwing their arms around we do a sticky group hug.
Amidst the hugging I look up to where coach was. She found me looking her way and gives me a nod. I nod back grinning.
The girls talk in high volumes as they prepare to go back to the steamy locker room. I grab a bottle of water and drink it down to the last drop.
"Judith." A familiar voice calls me from behind. I turn around to face him with a grin but then what I see before me makes me pause my happy grin and replace it with a scowl.
"What... What do you think you're doing here!? I demand Colin.
I don't care if he asks me if I own this court, with the way I was demanding him. I was beyond annoyed seeing his face.
Colin looked uncomfortable and kept forgetting, but what was more shocking was a look of regret on his face.
I wait for his reply but he just stands awkwardly, playing with the sleeve of his t-shirt like some preschool kid.
"Uh, the guy you came with the other day dragged me here to see a match of yours." He finally says and I turn to Travis with irritation. I throw my hands to both sides in a way of asking what-the-hell-are-you-doing?
"I didn't feel right the way he spoke to you yesterday. I just had to bring him here and show to him who he was dissing at." Travis says firmly, confidence oozing off of him.
"I..." The kid starts making Travis and I to pause our conversation. "I'm sorry I ever spoke so rudely to you before. You didn't deserve such cruel words. I, of all people should have understood you more what with both of us having the same inferiority."
I lift my hand to make him stop.
"I don't have an inferiority complex." I say firmly. " I love my height. It helps me be the best in the sport I love."
Colin just continues gawking at him. What he thought I'd accept what he was saying and give him a hug?
Yeah, I said I felt a deeper connection with the guy due to our lack in height. But I never once hated the fact that I was the short kid in my team. It was my very own asset. My very own advantage against a group of big girls.
"I must say though. I really thought they had gotten you in the zone defense. But you were simply amazing! I can't believe how you made your way out of it. It was just... Amazing." Colin says without a break and he even grabs my hands and shakes it as if he's holding the hand of his favourite celebrity.
I look at Travis for help and find his face darkening. What the hell?
What's gotten into him now?
Before I could ask Travis what was wrong, or get rid of this guy who kept shaking my hand, Ava my love came barrelling through.
"Move aside!" She snaps pushing both guys aside like they weighed nothing. I bite my tongue to keep myself from laughing.
"Judy!" She yells even though she's just two feet away from me. Ava throws herself at me, squashing me in a tight squeeze.
"You were so cool today!" She was grinning from ear to ear, her pretty eyes sparkling with happiness. Chuckling I give her a fist bump.
And just like that we forget the two guys standing awkwardly in front of us.
Before I turn back to go get changed, I look back and find Travis already having his eyes on me. I felt my insides do a summersault at his gaze.
"Thank you. For what you did."
He gives me the best smile he could muster which reached his eyes. Unlike Ava's happy twinkle, Travis's eyes shone with something more than just happiness. I couldn't put my finger on it. But I liked the way it made his breathtaking eyes look even more beautiful.
"Anything for you Judy."