Playing through Tragedy

By Coleman Swierc

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - When the Apache Ladies hit the floor Monday night, they did so, minus one.

"It is really tough, it is still sad now."

Sophomore point guard LaTika Smith's absense can be felt across the court.

"Knowing that 'Tika is not here, it is a loss," said TJC freshman Ashley Benjamin, "And we work harder to stay strong, because of all the difficulties our team has been through."

In a tragedy hardly describable, Smith has gone home, to attend the funeral of her brother.

A brother murdered earlier this month in Louisiana.

"When something like this tragic happens, and it happens at this magnitude, it kind of hurts," said head coach Trenia Jones, "You really hurt for the kid you hurt for you team because it is hard to explain."

"It was really tough, we were all crying, crying with her, it was really tough for that whole day, the next day," said freshman Cecila Okoye, "We were trying to see how she was doing, it was really really tough."

And while she grieves with her family, her teammates, her other family, are right there with her.

"I tell 'Tika, keep you head up, everything is going to be ok," said Benjamin.

"We pray before everygame, and the prayers go to 'Tika and her family," said sophomore Kelly Johnstone, "We have been praying as a team and hopefully everything goes well."

And while nothing will take away her pain, a pain shared by all, when she returns, they will be there, stronger than ever.

"All of this has happened, it really does bring us closer together, like a family," said Okoye, "I feel like this is a family right now."

"We love her, and we are going to do whatever it takes for her to get through this, and to help the family get through this," said Jones.

"It is like we are all best friends, we are there for each other."

*Copyright, KLTV, 2011.