Longtime Millwood coach Arnelia Spears walked off the court one last time with her head held high Friday night at State Fair Arena.
The walk was full of respect from those around the retiring coach, and it was full of emotion.
“It’s a double sadness,” Millwood assistant coach Shannon Hayes said following the Falcons’ 46-40 loss to No. 5 Cordell in the Class 2A semifinals.
“You’ve got greatness leaving and it’s like the one thing you wanted to give her is to leave on a championship. Personally as her assistant for the last seven years, I feel like I disappointed her. I feel like that’s the one last gift I could try to give her.”
Cordell, though, changed those plans with an impressive performance in which the Blue Devils never trailed.
They now face No. 2 Preston in Saturday’s championship game at 2 p.m.
“I’ve said this over and over: We’ve wanted to play them,” said Cordell senior Gabbie Parsons, who finished with 18 points. “We wanted to show everyone that we could beat the No. 1 team and we did.”
Cordell (27-1) led by as many as eight before holding off a furious charge by the Falcons.
Millwood (22-4) was able to get within a basket with two minutes remaining, but missed opportunities plagued it down the stretch and Cherokee Mitchell hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“Cordell was ready for us, they did a real good job and the coach was ready,” Spears said. “We just missed too many layups. We’ve been missing layups all year.”
And Spears, as usual, used the end of the game as a teaching moment for her players.
“I don’t know if state champion is the only way to go out,” she said. “It’s just whether these young ladies learned something tonight. They’ll be back next year and we’ll be back the next year too because the ones on the bench are just as good.
“To me it’s all about a character thing. Did we learn from this? We’ll see next year.”
Millwood returns nearly every player next year, including each starter. That was the positive the Falcons found following the loss.
“We just tried to win it for her and do it for her,” junior DeRae Lewis said. “We wanted her to go out on a ring. By next year we should be better.”
Millwood, though, will be under the tutelage of Hayes, though Spears said she will still attend 80-95 percent of the games and may even pop in at practices from time to time.
Spears, though, said it was time for her 40-year tenure to come to a close.
“Somebody’s got to retire and I’ve been there a long time,” she said. “I hope I’ve helped them. I just know they’ll be here (next year). I might have missed my chance to be on an undefeated team because the freshmen will be much wiser and I guarantee you these juniors will be much, much wiser. They’ll be hard to beat next year, I don’t care who they play.”