P.E.’s loss is Lady Cats’ gain

Conley picked out of eighth-grade P.E. class to play basketball

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

Jan. 25, 2008 - Stephanie Conley was in P.E. class in eighth grade when SSMS coach Mary Watson saw her playing basketball.

Conley's P.E. days were over after that.

"Coach Watson went and grabbed her out of P.E. class and told her, 'You're going to be in athletics,' " recalled SSHS head coach Tina Carrillo. "She just told Stephanie that she was too good not to be in athletics."

That was a watershed moment for Conley, who has been a three-year starter on varsity. She currently leads the Lady Cats in rebounding at 9.8 boards per game, and is averaging 7.7 points and 2.6 steals.

Not only is she tall (5-11) and rangy, she has quickness and speed that makes her one of the most athletic players on the team. She lettered in track as a freshman running the 400 and 800 meters.

Carrillo said Conley also has an innate ability when it comes to rebounding.

"Stephanie Conley is probably the most natural rebounder I've ever had. She has great hands, great timing," the coach said. "She's so good at what she does, and her area is rebounding."

Conley transformed from a girl who had never played basketball prior to middle school to an All-District player as a sophomore. Her personality also blossomed during that time from a quiet, demure girl to a quick-witted jokester.

"I recall her sophomore year, and you could never get a word out of her. She went an entire year, and I don't think I ever heard her speak," Carrillo said. "Now, you can't shut her up. She has an awesome personality, and it's been neat to see her blossom.

"We'll be coming home on the bus, and I'll hear a burst of laughter, and when I look in the mirror, I see Conley back there telling jokes. I never would have thought that a couple of years ago."

She has a large family, growing up the youngest of three brothers and four sisters, but her father died when she was in elementary school. The daughter of Olivia and the late Marion Conley, Stephanie said she kept playing basketball because it became a new-found coping mechanism after her father's death in 1997.

"I think maybe that's one of the reasons I stayed with basketball, to take my mind off of it," she said.

Now, basketball may take her to college. She would like to play at the next level.

"I think she has a future, and we're going to see what we can do for her," Carrillo said. "I think that would be an incredible opportunity for her. I don't think we've seen her basketball yet. I think she's still developing as a basketball player because she started so late."

Along with her physical ability, Carrillo said Conley has a strong work ethic and a reliability that endears her to her teammates.

"I don't know that she's ever missed a practice, I don't know that she's ever been late to practice," the coach said. "She's been reliable, and it's been fun to watch her develop and grow as a basketball player and as a person."

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