The Panthers girls' basketball team had seen bigger teams before Thursday night.
They’d matched up against talented players before, too. Few things, though, could have prepared them for Thursday's performance from Gloucester City senior Gabrielle Cooper.
Cooper, who stands at 5-feet-11-inches, put on one of her best performances this season against Collingswood, and her Lady Lions teammates clinched a 51-26 win—as she watched the entire fourth quarter from her seat on the sideline.
In the first three quarters of play, Cooper recorded a game-high 19 points, her final field goal coming from roughly 21 feet away from the basket. It was a fitting way to conclude her minutes—terrorizing the Panthers not only with her size, but also with her tremendous knack for the sport.
“Usually when we play teams that aren’t up to our skill level, we back down,” said Cooper, who is currently being recruited by Division III Rosemont University in Pennsylvania. “We talked before the game about how we weren’t going to do that tonight. We wanted to come out tonight right away and do whatever we had to do.”
The Lady Lions certainly didn’t show any signs of sympathy for the Panthers. Gloucester City held Collingswood to a mere six points in the first half—and, in the game's opening 16 minutes, allowing only two field goals to be scored.
One of the Panthers' field goals belonged to sophomore point guard Ellie O’Neill, who would eventually finish the game as Collingswood’s leading scorer, with 12 points.
Also in the Panthers' box score—junior forward Erica Witherbee, who had six points; and senior guard Beth LaBar, who took two.
“We had to go harder than we normally do tonight,” said LaBar. “We had to play harder defense. We go through this a lot. There are always teams with girls that are bigger than us.”
While Thursday's game had no significant connotation—in terms of standings or playoff implications– for the Panthers, their Friday night game against North Burlington Regional High School is important.
It falls on senior night. During Friday's meaningful game, LaBar will be playing on her Collingswood home court.
“I’m sad,” said LaBar. “Our team has a bond. None of the girls on our team really hang out with each other unless we’re at practice or a game, but our team has a bond that’s different than something you’d find with a lot of other sports.”