Sandy Creek girls basketball seniors from left, Abby Lantry, Kendall Darling, and Grace Skellington, at a practice Monday in the Sandy Creek High School gym. Josh St. Croix photo

SANDY CREEK — Abby Lantry has been reunited with a pair of fellow senior leaders to ensure the Sandy Creek girls varsity basketball team remains on its resurgent path.

Grace Skellington and Kendall Darling are each back after missing last season with injuries and have helped the Comets to an 8-5 overall record and a 7-4 mark in the Frontier League, entering the week still in contention for the “C” Division title.

Skellington and Lantry each joined the Sandy Creek varsity squad as eighth-graders and Darling was moved up a year later, and the trio is back together aiming to close their intertwined careers by elevating the program that reigned among area squads for nearly three decades into the early 2000s.

“We’ve been working really hard for many years, and as the seasons have passed, we’ve started getting better and better, and I think this is just a product of all those years of hard work,” said Lantry, the senior guard and predominant scoring option for the Comets.

Sandy Creek played just a handful of games in the span of three weeks last season, stuck in limbo as the only Frontier League member from Oswego County, working within the health protocol from each area.

Jefferson County schools started several weeks later than Oswego County last winter amid COVID-19 concerns, so the Comets played a condensed schedule against area teams out of their regular league.

The Comets finished 13-8 overall the prior season in 2019-20 for its best record in more than a decade.

Sandy Creek head coach Michelle Shirley and top assistant James Dowlearn each credited the long-tenured veteran players for allowing the team to pick up where it left off following a year of stunted progress.

The Sandy Creek high school gym was also under construction for most of last summer, limiting offseason training opportunities.

“We have good continuity with some of our seniors having been in the program for so long, it’s really helped us pick up and continue doing what we want to do in the program without having to relearn everything, so it’s really been a blessing for us to have that senior leadership,” Dowlearn said.

The Comets also felt the absence of both Skellington and Darling last year, both starters and key contributors upon their return.

Skellington spent last season working with a concussion clinic to fully overcome past injuries, and Darling was recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered during the 2020 Section 3 playoffs.

“It has been really fun because I missed it and it took a toll on me that I couldn’t play last year,” Skellington said.

Darling added: “It was difficult knowing that you couldn’t help the team, but it’s been fun coming back and seeing what I can actually do.”

The senior trio were all key members of the 2019-20 squad that broke through for Sandy Creek’s first double-digit win total in 13 seasons.

“I think when you lost as much as we had lost, and we still aren’t completely there, but it took time for them to learn how to win,” said head coach Michelle Shirley. “Sometimes we would play teams that I felt we matched with in skill, but we just didn’t know how to win and couldn’t put a whole four quarters together to win a game. I think they’ve learned as they got older.”

The senior triumvirate were also team managers in junior high and became dedicated to trying to uplift the program as it was enduring consecutive one-win seasons earlier this decade.

Sandy Creek won just six games over period of five seasons from 2012-2017 before beginning its current upswing.

“We started managing in seventh grade knowing where we came from, we were barely winning, and now we’re here with a winning record, so I think it’s fun to see how far we’ve actually come when we didn’t know if we would ever be that good,” Darling said.

Sandy Creek has been guided by guard play with four of the five total seniors shining in the backcourt.

Darling has added a viable 3-point shooting threat and Skellington provides an energy that was otherwise lacking. She was described as the team’s “warrior,” by Shirley.

Lantry has continued thriving as the offensive focal point as the Comets approach the end of the regular season with designs on making the postseason impact they have long been working toward.

“I hope they feel a whole lot of pride and are aware of the time and energy they have put into it,” Dowlearn said. “We’ve taken a lot of bad beats for many, many years, and now we’re just starting to see some competitiveness and that consistency in the program.”

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