Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Crusader's glow unmatched

LAKELAND

Everyone, they say, loves Sabrina Whiting.

"Everyone," teammate Peyton Walker said.

"Everyone," sophomore Brooke Boyce said.

"Everyone," older sister Savannah said.

It should be noted that Boyce and Savannah said this, and more wonderful things about the wonderful Seffner Christian guard, as they stood in the Lakeland Center on Wednesday night holding gigantic cutouts of Whiting's head in their hands.

There were five 4-foot, smiling Whiting cardboard mugs in all, oversized $35 stickers made at MixonInk, where Boyce's mom works, and meticulously cropped and adhered to poster boards.

They practically stole the show.

Savannah (Seffner Christian, class of 2013), sister Samantha (class of 2009), Boyce and others waved them for cameras. They posed for pictures with them. They were tweeted and retweeted, and even made the front page of the B section of the Lakeland Ledger.

"We wanted to do something special to surprise her," Savannah said.

"Oh, I was surprised," Sabrina said. "I have the coolest family."

The smiling face on the cutouts wasn't the face that Sabrina Whiting wore after Wednesday's 65-51 loss to Miami Country Day in the Class 3A state title game.

That face was hurt, and pink, soggy from the tears.

Whiting capped her illustrious high school basketball career with 16 points and nine rebounds. She made two 3-pointers to start the game. She mixed it up with bigger and better players, diving for loose balls, full speed and scrappy because that's how she does it.

Whiting eventually fouled out with 79 seconds left.

She got a silver medal.

In a career that started when she was a seventh-grader, scoring her first two points against Naples, Whiting was Seffner Christian basketball.

She scored, she rebounded and she assisted her teammates as well as anyone. She led the team to three state semifinal berths and was the team's fire.

But coach Greg Fawbush didn't mention a darned thing about basketball, or her more than 2,000 points, or the 123 wins, when asked to define Whiting's impact.

"Everybody is going to look at points; I look at when my son was born, one of the first people around was her," he said. "I look at when somebody on the team is hurt, she makes sure they get everything that they need. That's Sabrina Whiting; it's not just what you see on the floor. It's the whole package. She is going to be missed."

No one will miss her more than Walker, her Crusaders teammate.

She met Whiting after moving to the area from Belgium, at a University of Tampa basketball camp.

Whiting was the star, even as a seventh-grader. Walker jokes that everyone hated her for it.

"She was the bomb."

They became best friends, and when Whiting joined the travel team run by Rob Walker, Peyton's dad, they became even closer.

"I play travel ball with Sabrina and I play high school, so literally my life is with Sabrina," Walker said. "She's like my sister."

So while Whiting's real sisters came up with the idea of the poster-sized mugshots, Walker decided to dedicate the final four to her.

"I texted her last night and said, 'Sabrina, you're the one I want to win this for,' " Walker said. "Because I care so much for her, and I want to do so much for her because she does so much for me."

In two games at state, Walker scored 52 points and grabbed 32 rebounds and played more ferociously than anyone, earning MVP honors.

All of the adulation Wednesday night — the big cardboard heads, the long hug with Walker after the loss, the comments by Fawbush — brought Whiting to tears.

Afterward, when she was able to smile again, she seemed happy with all that she had accomplished.

"I knew coming in I had to give this game my all, and I think I did that," said Whiting, who will play collegiately at Embry-Riddle University.

As she received her runnerup medal, she drew the biggest ovation. Five of her big, grinning noggins looked back at her from the stands.

"I don't know what I'd do with all five," she said, "but I'm sure I'll keep one."

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