It isn’t very often that the simple dribbling ability of a high school girls basketball player drives her team’s fans to shrieks of delight.
But as natural as Erin Gibbons made it look as she bounced the ball between her legs and took off one way while leaving her defender spinning in the opposite direction, her shiftiness was hardly second-nature.
Just like her knack for finding open Wyoming Valley West teammates with pinpoint passes, for changing games with critical shots and for dogging opponents with relentless defense, Gibbons spent years perfecting her ballhandling skills.
“All those moves that I do, I worked so hard just to get one of them down,” Gibbons said.
It all paid off when Gibbons led Valley West to the school’s first-ever state playoff victory, was chosen to the Pennsylvania All-State team, and was named the Times Leader Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Along the way, Gibbons had her Valley West school mates, most notably a group of regulars from the school’s lower levels, hooting and howling at her crossover dribbles and behind-the-back magic that often left defenders dumb-founded.
“When I would come down the floor, I always had a different move,” said Gibbons, who perfected her game as a point guard under the guidance of Darnell Ford of My Sky Elite training facility in Wilkes-Barre. “All the moves I have, I learned from Darnell Ford. I think it was just different. Whoever was guarding me didn’t see it very often.”
And as those knee-buckling pivots and sudden directional changes wowed the crowd, sometimes Gibbons even impressed herself — starting with her career-high 43-point night that orchestrated an upset of previously-unbeaten Nanticoke Area.
“I had no idea I was capable of doing that,” said Gibbons, who was selected to the Pennsylvania Girls Basketball All-State second team in Class 5A. “Even after the game, I had no idea I could score that many points.”
Everyone around the league knew she could score, though.
Gibbons averaged 15.6 points, hit 47 3-point field goals and tossed in foul shots at an 80 percent clip, finishing among the top eight players in the WVC in all three categories.
“Nothing can compare to the game against Nanticoke this year, where she really stepped up with the scoring,” Valley West coach Gary Ferenchick said. “She took most of that game on her back, took the team on her back. That’s something I don’t think I’ll forget.”
Gibbons scored at least 20 points in nine games while sparking a Spartans team that hadn’t won a division title in four seasons to the WVC Division 1 crown, providing the daughter of Kathy Gibbons of Forty Fort with a memory of a lifetime.
“When we won the division this year, I didn’t do that in any of the years I was here,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons scored 20 points in that division-clinching victory during the regular-season finale against Crestwood, but it wasn’t just her scoring ability that made the Spartans soar.
She averaged four rebounds, three assists and two steals on a Valley West team that fed off her balanced, all-around game.
And Ferenchick likes to point to one of Gibbons’ most forgettable moments as an example of what made her a winner.
Her shot at the buzzer of a one-point District 2 Class 5A championship loss was partially blocked — one of the few times Gibbons failed to deliver victory for Valley West with a game on the line.
“I knew coach Gary was going to put the ball in my hands at the end,” said Gibbons, who will play for Division II Mansfield University next season. “I just fell short. It bothered me for a little bit. I couldn’t dwell on that. We were still playing in states.”
So she called a team meeting afterwards, and emotionally rallied the Spartans.
“She’s a special player because of her leadership role, and how she helped the team,” Ferenchick said.
From heartbreak came a place in history.
Gibbons immediately rebounded with a team-high 16-point game that led Valley West over Twin Valley for the Spartans’ first-ever PIAA playoff victory in six state appearances. Then Gibbons followed with a 12-point night in the second round of states to take the Spartans to the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals, cementing her legacy in the Valley West program.
“When we won that game, I looked at my team,” Gibbons said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we all did that.’”
Now she knows the feeling of awe she inspired among her fans all season.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski