By Matt Goisman
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.”
Ariana said she’s always played third base, this year serving as backup third baseman to Calistro. Ariana’s played in nine games this fall, her best being a Sept. 7 game at Tulsa Memorial in which she went 1-for-2, driving in a run and scoring two more.
“I like being able to see the ball and getting to be involved a lot in the plays,” Ariana said of third base. She called Calistro “one of my best friends,” but also described softball and basketball teammate Washington the same way.
“If she sees me down, she’s really good at picking me back up if I make a mistake, and I feel like I’m the same way with her,” Ariana said of Calistro.
As a basketball player, Ariana plays guard. She said her softball and basketball positions compliment each other because both positions demand good footwork.
Now a senior, Ariana finds herself in the same role she looked up to as a sophomore. Those seniors made her transition to the varsity easier, she said, and now she’s the one trying to make it easier.
“That’s kind of our responsibility now,” Ariana said. “The freshmen depend on us.”
Though Ariana still has the winter to look forward to, her final softball season is quickly drawing to a close. After graduating, she said she plans to go to college, possibly at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and then become an X-ray technician.
“I want to attend UCO because it’s still a small school and the classes aren’t too big,” Ariana said. “I want to become an X-ray tech because they make really good money.”
Ariana said she might have transfer from UCO to a school like the University of Oklahoma to finish her studies. That wouldn’t be so bad, as she said her favorite softball team is OU, her favorite player former OU pitching stud Keilani Ricketts.
When not playing for the Lady Buffs, Ariana spends time with McAlester High School’s Native American Club — her mother is Mexican, her father Choctaw — and Oklahoma’s Promise. She’s also played for the Future Stars AAU basketball team in McAlester and worked at the Bahama Dawn’s snowcone shack in Tandy Town.
Ariana said she’d like to spend some time living in a bigger city like Tulsa, but eventually return here to raise a family.
With all the bonds she’s formed through softball and basketball, she’ll surely be welcomed back.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.