Haleigh Lankster ached.
There isn’t a bone in her body that hasn’t been iced the last four years, and on Sunday they all ached.
In her final act as a Shocker, Lankster came as close to sacrificing her body to the Wichita State women’s basketball team as possible without entering hyperbole.
She ached because less than 48 hours earlier, she had her elbow hyperextended in a collision, leaving her in a sling. She ached Sunday because she suited up, started and played 17 minutes through the throbbing pain. She ached because she ended her career on her terms, even though it meant not scoring in Wichita State’s 63-44 loss to Oklahoma State in the second round of the WNIT at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
And then, Lankster lifted herself from the bench, dragged through the handshake line and carried herself to the locker room. From there, Lankster gave her remaining emotional strength to reflect on her career that had just concluded.
“I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me,” Lankster said. “I wanted to show my team I’m still there for them. It’s about sacrificing and leaving your blood, sweat and tears out there. Hopefully, I did that for all my four years.”
Lankster is the only remnant left of Jody Adams’ first recruiting class at Wichita State. She was a four-year starter and leaves WSU ranked on its career lists for scoring (ninth), three-pointers (fifth) and steals (second).
Some time from now, teammates say they won’t remember Lankster didn’t score in her final game. They’ll remember how inspiring it was to see her take the court, despite the injury.
“You hate to see Haleigh go out like because of what she has given to this program,” Adams said. “But for her to try to come back was pretty remarkable. The courage she had to get back out there and fight with her team, that just says a lot about that young lady. People like that are just going to explode in life. There’s no doubt great things are head for Haleigh.”
After falling into a 37-18 hole to start the second half, WSU reeled off a 20-5 run to trim Oklahoma State’s lead to four with 9:46 remaining. But the Shockers couldn’t sustain their offense, ultimately doomed by 35.3-percent shooting, and 18 turnovers and a game-high 21 points by OSU’s Tiffany Bias, an Andover Central grad.
But that didn’t damper the mood for Adams. Wichita State finished with 20 wins, tying the school record.
“I don’t think you can put into words what you’ve been through in the past four years to get this program to where it’s respected, where these kids are respected for their work,” Adams said. “You look at this program now and you look back and say, ‘Wow, these kids have really done something special.’ ”
It’s a start of an era, Adams hopes, one that she and Lankster co-founded. There’s no question the imprint Lankster leaves with the underclassmen.
“Haleigh is one of the players that I look up to personally,” freshman Molly O’Brien said. “She goes out and gives it her all every game. (Today) showed a lot about her character and how strong she is and what this game and this program means to her.”
Lankster will graduate this May with a degree in psychology and plans on pursuing a professional career overseas. She knows she’ll eventually come back because she knows Adams will take WSU to the next level.
When Adams achieves that kind of success, Lankster will be smiling. She’ll know her work has been finished.
“I think it will definitely be special to me,” Lankster said. “Hopefully, I left a legacy behind.”
Halftime—Oklahoma St. 31, Wichita St. 18. Three-point shooting—Wichita St. 1-4 (O’Brien 1-1, Sanchez 0-1, Lankster 0-1, Harden 0-1), Oklahoma St. 4-19 (Suttles 1-1, Schippers 1-3, Bias 1-4, Donohoe 1-5, Keller 0-3, Schultz 0-3). Rebounds—Wichita St. 34 (Harden 7), Oklahoma St. 37 (Donohoe, Young 11). Assists—Wichita St. 4 (Diamond 2), Oklahoma St. 14 (Bias 5). Fouls—Wichita St. 13, Oklahoma St. 11. A—1,482.