Nothing demonstrates how selfless Mead basketball standout Sue Winger is than Senior Night.
Winger, who had started every game since the second one her freshman year, knew Panthers coach Quantae Anderson would be in a pickle with six seniors. Traditionally, coaches try to start their seniors on Senior Night, but only five can start.
“Typical Sue, she said she wouldn’t start,” Anderson said.
Unless Mead earns a home district game, Tuesday was Winger’s last chance to start. Even she will tell you that it’s special to start a game.
“It’s a rush no matter how many times you do it,” she said. “At tipoff you get excited. I wanted the other girls to experience that. I told ‘Q’ that everyone deserves a chance to start. Those girls work just as hard at practice.”
Basketball will be Winger’s ticket to further education. The 6-foot-2 wing signed a letter of intent to the University of Idaho in November.
Beyond basketball, though, Winger wants her life to count for something. Winger, who will graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and one of Mead’s valedictorians, sees herself doing something yet to be determined in the medical field using her four years of high school Spanish. It could be as a medical missionary in a Central American country.
She got a taste of that last summer when she accompanied Mackenzie McPhee, a former teammate, to Nicaragua for a one-week medical missionary trip.
There’s no doubt where Winger got her basketball talents. Her father, Mike, was a three-year starter at Coeur d’Alene High and went on to be a three-year starter at point guard for the late Dan Fitzgerald at Gonzaga.
Sue Winger is an inch taller than her dad – and has been as far back as her freshman season. She likes doing the parent thing and coming up beside him and putting her arm around him – just her fun way of poking the needle.
“He’s taught me practically everything I know about basketball,” she said. “I share his love for basketball. It’s been our family sport.”
Winger has picked up a distinct trait from her father. She’s humble to a fault. She’s discovered how good a player her father was by reading articles framed in the famous ‘Winger Hall of Fame’ – in the basement of her grandparents’ Coeur d’Alene home. Every mention in the newspaper of Mike and his brother Jim, the Lake City boys basketball coach, is on the wall. Jim finished his college education at Gonzaga, where he was a relief pitcher for former coach Steve Hertz.
“I could tell my dad was special,” Sue said.
In her freshman year, Winger showed she was going to be special in her own right.
She didn’t start in the first game, a 35-31 loss at Lewiston. But Anderson, who was also breaking in as Mead’s head coach with Winger that year, promptly put her in the lineup to stay in the second game.
When Anderson accepted the coaching position, he heard stories about a tall player coming in as a freshman.
“She’s been everything and more than I expected,” said the 5-9 Anderson, who must look up to talk with Winger. “She’s the consummate student-athlete.”
Winger was the youngster on a senior-rich team her sophomore year that went 25-1 and captured the State 4A championship.
She had several memorable moments that season. For example:
• She got a steal and alertly passed the ball to breaking teammate Delany Junkermier, who was intentionally fouled going to the basket. Junkermier made both foul shots to lift Mead to a 51-47 win over Gonzaga Prep, giving the Panthers their first league championship in 13 years.
• In a state-qualifying subregional game, Winger blocked a 3-point attempt with 6 seconds remaining and tipped the ball to teammate Morgan Douglass, who made a layup as the horn sounded to give the Panthers a 71-69 victory in overtime against Chiawana in Pasco.
• In the state final, Winger scored a team-high 16 points and had 10 rebounds to lead Mead to a 58-42 win over Arlington.
Winger is well aware that it’s rare for athletes to play in a state title game. It’s even rarer for athletes to win a state title. And it’s even rarer for athletes to be the game’s most valuable player.
Winger adamantly shook her head at the notion of the last sentence.
“It was special to be part of that team,” she said. “Everyone was unselfish and anyone could step up any night.”
Still, Anderson knew Winger was going to have a memorable game in the final. In fact, he told her so before the game.
“I told her we needed her to have a big night and she said,” ‘All right,’ ” Anderson said.
Winger presents a matchup problem. She has the shooting touch beyond the 3-point arc and she can also post up smaller defenders. She will conclude her prep career with more than 900 points, 500 rebounds, 150 blocks, 200 assists and 100 steals.
Winger knows what she must do to make the transition to college.
“I need to get a lot stronger,” she said. “I’ve known that for a while. Especially if I play small forward and face up. It’s a work in progress. It’ll take a lot of lifting and protein shakes probably. Weight doesn’t attach to my bones.”
Anderson looks forward to following Winger in college.
“She’s developed into an all-around player,” Anderson said. “I’ve coached a lot of kids and there aren’t very many kids that I want my daughter to be like. Academically, personally, morally – Sue’s that kid.”