BY DEAN HOCKNEY
GREENTOWN, Ind. – The Eastern High School athletic program has seen a considerable uptick in positive stories the past few seasons. While known more for its academics than athletics, Athletic Director Brad Wilson has hosted more than his fair share of college signings, championship stories and individual success over the past three years. And most of that has centered on Josiah Price – who is now playing football for Michigan State – and the girls running program. But on Dec. 16, the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Eastern Lady Comets basketball team took center stage as senior Brittany Neeley hit a driving layup and joined a short list of members of the Eastern 1,000 Point Club.
“We don’t have many basketball players score 1,000 points – it is great to put a couple of names up on the basketball here in the gym,” said Wilson of Neeley and Price, who scored his 1,000th point last January. “You couldn’t ask for two better kids in the world; these are the types of kids you want your own kids to marry.”
Neeley’s 1,000th career varsity basketball point came on a second quarter drive from the right side, hitting an off-balance shot as she was fouled in a 64-24 win over Madison-Grant. That bucket allowed Neeley to become the fourth Lady Comet to score 1,000 career points, joining Beth Dean (1,113), Brenda Nicholson (1,072) and Stephanie Cheek (1,007). By the end of the win over Madison-Grant, Neeley scored 23 points and had climbed to No. 3 on the Lady Comets scoring list, passing Cheek.
“I really didn’t think I would do it in the first half,” said Neeley, who hit the magical shot a little over 13 minutes into the game. “I wasn’t really nervous because I had been so busy, but it got to me a little bit at the free throw line.”
While Neeley says she wasn’t nervous, her actions may have deceived her. She missed a couple of free throws and an easy layup – courtesy of a nice pass from twin sister Bethany – before hitting the shot that sent her over 1,000. But her comment about being busy was accurate, at least according to Wilson.
“Their work ethic is unbelievable,” said Wilson of the Neeley twins. “You will see them out running before school starts and I am like, ‘give it a break.’ But that is what kind of kids these girls are. It has been a great ride. They might be two of the best athletes this school has ever had and we have had some great ones. It has just been fun to get on board and watch and see what happens in the future.”
Head coach Jeremy Dexter was emotional after the game, saying he did not want this season to end. He clearly enjoys coaching not only Brittany, but the entire Lady Comets squad.
“I don’t think I can accurately describe in words what Brittany has meant to this program and me,” said Dexter. “She came from our middle school where she just stole the ball and hit layups all of the time. Her athleticism has now taken over. Don’t get me wrong, she still steals the ball and hits layups, but when we lost Carly Miles two years ago someone had to step into the point guard roll and she did. She has taken pride in that despite not being a primary point guard coming up. She is a great leader, like all of our seniors are. She has set a precedent of work ethic. Despite everything that Brittany and Bethany have going on, they are always at practice on time and making sure the team is together – I just can’t put that into words.”
Neeley has been a huge part in the successful return of the Lady Comets program to prominence. Prior to the Neeleys’ arrival, the program suffered four seasons in which the team had 23 total wins. Since then, they have a combined record of 55-19. But there remains a large void – this senior class does not have a conference or sectional title to show for the hard work. They hope that changes this year.
“We want to keep playing deep into the tournament,” said Neeley. “That is our goal, more than anything individual. We want to win the sectional and move on.”
Neeley is no stranger to the spotlight, but it usually involves running. She finished third as a junior in the 800 meter run at the IHSAA Girls Track and Field Championships last June. The Lady Comets finished 10th in the state meet as a team. And in cross country she took home a 16th place finish this year as the Lady Comets finished seventh as a team. But with the success, she has always strived to be better.
“I didn’t want to be like the kids who peaked during their sophomore year, especially in running,” said Neeley. “Making the Indiana All-Star team in cross country was probably the biggest accomplishment and scoring 1,000 points was the next biggest. Basketball doesn’t come as easy to me, so this is really big. It is really a mental sport and I have to work at it.”
Wilson said he knows how hard Neeley has worked at basketball.
“I think it is a combination of kids working hard on their game to get themselves better as shooters and ball handlers,” said Wilson. “It is evident by watching them race up and down the court and hitting layup after layup.”
After a 52-37 Mid-Indiana Conference win against Maconaquah, in which Neeley scored 28 points, the Lady Comets stand 9-1 as they prepare to play in the Clinton Prairie Tournament on Dec. 28 and the Howard County Tournament on Jan. 3. And while the individual accolades are nice, ask anyone on the Lady Comets squad and they will say the ultimate goal is a long run into the IHSAA girls basketball tournament in February.