McALESTER — Many McAlester Lady Buffaloes talk about the tight bonds within their softball team. But with the Lady Buffs, those bonds often last beyond the final game of the fall, as many of those same softball players go on to play for McAlester’s basketball team in the winter.
Along with several underclassmen, the list of McAlester softball-basketball players includes juniors Vhitney Garner and April Calistro and seniors Baylee Dawkins, Stacey Washington and Ariana Garner, Vhitney’s older sister.
“We hang out together as a team all the time,” Ariana said Tuesday. “We have bonfires and stuff and try to relax as much as we can.”
Ariana and Vhitney started playing softball at a young age. Ariana said her father, Steve Garner, would frequently take his two daughters outside to practice.
“He always wanted us to play sports because he never did in high school,” Ariana said.
“When we were little, we liked it, because we felt like we were getting a lot of attention from our parents.”
Both Steve and his wife Blanca still come to watch their kids play, Ariana said. Ariana started playing competitive softball with the Boys & Girls Club, then joined the junior high team at Puterbaugh.
She made McAlester’s varsity as a sophomore. The Lady Buffs reached the state semifinals that year.
“I was kind of nervous,” Ariana said of her first season. “It was when Rayna (Smith) and Rachel (Bernhardt) and all of them were seniors, so it was scary.”
Both Garners made the varsity that year, and they’ve played together every year since. Vhitney’s a junior and Ariana’s a senior, and Ariana said few of their teammates know the Garners’ styles the way they know each other.
“People don’t think it is, but it’s a lot of fun,” Ariana said. “Vhitney, when I’m batting, she can tell me how I swung wrong, and I can tell her. It’s the same way in basketball.”