TERRE HAUTE —
When they first heard the news, they thought immediately of others.
That common unselfishness isn’t all they did well, but certainly helps explain why three four-year high school basketball starters — Nicole Anderson of Terre Haute North, Rhagen Smith of Sullivan and Lane Mahurin of Rockville — have been named Wabash Valley Players of the Year and the Tribune-Star’s Athletes of the Year for winter sports.
Top athletes in the other winter sports are Terre Haute South’s Grace Padget, a four-time state finalist in girls swimming and arguably the best female backstroker in Valley history; Christian Wilhelm of South, who broke two school records, won two Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference events in boys swimming and who may have cost himself a shot at placing in the state individual finals by an unselfish gesture to support some teammates; Jesse Miller of Northview, the Valley’s lone state wrestling finalist; and Cory Orndorff of Sullivan, who was a good bet to join Miller at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before an injury prior to semistate competition.
But it was a good year for basketball talent too — all five of the girls on the all-Valley first team are or still could be Division I recruits, while the boys first team includes three players who have been in a state championship game the past two seasons — and the three Players of the Year have certainly made their presence felt.
“This is something I always wanted to be,” admitted Mahurin, whose older brother R.J. won the same award five years ago, “but I was never quite sure I was good enough to beat out the other great athletes in winter sports in the Valley.”
“It’s a big honor, especially considering everyone that’s in the Wabash Valley,” Anderson agreed. “There are so many people that could’ve gotten it.”
“It’s a huge honor, and I’m blessed to have that opportunity,” added Smith, who is a two-time winner of the award, “and sharing it with Nicole is cool too; we’ve been rivals through the years, and she’s a good person to share that with.”
Coaches of the two winning girls were not exactly surprised to hear the news, they indicated this week.
“I was constantly filling out paperwork nominating [Smith] for things,” said Sullivan’s Julie Meeks. “She’s won a lot of awards, and they are well deserved.
“She’s a 4.0 student, she’s first in her class … just a good kid all the way around,” Meeks continued. “She’s fun to be around, she’s a good leader and she’s mature for her age.”
“As a player, a coach couldn’t ask for better [than Anderson],” noted North’s Mike Allen. “She’s a coach on the floor, she never takes a play off and she never takes a drill off. She’s been a pleasure for the last four years.
“As a person, she’s very personable, a very good student, and her teammates looked up to her as a player and as a friend,” Allen added.
Both coaches realize they won’t get players like Anderson and Smith very often.
“In 10 years, I’ve only had two players who started as freshmen,” Allen said. “I could see [what Anderson was going to offer] skill-wise and work ethic-wise, and she developed into a leader.”
“I’ve never coached an Indiana All-Star before,” answered Meeks when asked if Smith was the best player she’d coached. “She’ll be missed. She leads by example: Even after we lost at the regional, she’s still in the gym every day. She’s very self-motivated; she wants to have every edge she can possibly have.”
Coach Dave Mahurin of Rockville, for obvious reasons, wasn’t about to say that Lane — or R.J. — had been the best player he’d ever coached, but he was quick to acknowledge the joy of his past eight seasons, four with each of his sons.
“I’m probably the luckiest coach around here,” he said. “They made us look like we knew what we were doing.”
Both sons played for teams that reached the Class A Frankfort Regional more often than not, but it was the earlier group of Rockville players — R.J. and his classmates — who had been preceded by the most expectations.
“[Lane] wasn’t as interested in basketball as a young kid,” his father related recently. “We learned a lot of things as R.J. came through [the Rockville program].”
The younger brother didn’t learn to imitate the older one, though. The two Mahurins developed into completely different players.
“R.J. was a shooter,” Dave Mahurin noted, “while Lane came up as a distributor and an all-around player … that’s what’s going to be fun about watching them play together [next season at Indiana Wesleyan].
“I’m incredibly proud of [Lane],” Dave Mahurin continued. “He worked really hard to be where he’s at. It shows that being unselfish is not a bad thing.”
Lane Mahurin’s teams got farther than R.J.’s did, playing in the Class A championship game as a junior, but the Rox didn’t get quite that far in his final season.
“It’s been a great time, a fun time,” he said of his four years of Rockville basketball. “These guys [on the team] are my family, and the community was great. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better high school experience than I had at Rockville.
“After the regional [loss to Lafayette Central Catholic last month] I wasn’t too upset, because we weren’t the better team that day,” he added. “Now my only goal [as he readies himself for college] is to get a heck of a lot stronger and in better shape, and I’ll move on from there.”
Smith, who won a pair of sectional championships her last two years at Sullivan, will be heading to Indiana State in the fall.
“I’m proud of all we accomplished [at Sullivan] and it was great to see all the work I put in in the gym pay off … coach [Teri] Moren’s got a good group of girls [at ISU] and I’m ready to … [help] make a lot of good things happen.”
Anderson’s teams didn’t have the postseason successes that the other teams did, but she helped the Patriots achieve some memorable victories in perhaps the toughest conference in the state. Now she’s headed to Miami of Ohio.
“It was a lot of fun; I couldn’t have asked for a better four years,” she said in looking back. “I put a lot of hard work into it … and there were so many people helping and supporting me I couldn’t name them all.
“Hopefully [college basketball] is going to be a lot of fun, and hopefully I can work as hard to be successful there. It should be a great time.”