So much so, in fact, she even participated in a little photo trickery to make herself a part of the team, well before she ever took to the court officially. Sitting in head coach Janis Beal’s office recently, joined by a couple of teammates she’s literally known all her life, Wardell decided to share the story for the first time.
“I cut the head off a player on a team poster and replaced it with a picture of me,” Wardell said, to a roomful of laughter. “I taped my picture on there and hung the poster on my wall; I think it might still be hanging there.”
The poster in question featured the 2013-14 Lady Trappers basketball team. Sierra Williams was the unfortunate victim of the photo decapitation, though Beal doubted her former player would take issue with it.
“That’s hilarious,” Beal said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe you did that to Sierra.”
“That’s commitment, coach,” said Wardell’s former high school and current college teammate Savanna Savage. “I’m glad you let her come play here, I don’t know what she would have done if you hadn’t.”
The third member of the Lovell trio, sophomore Charri McArthur, agreed.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of that story,” McArthur said. “That’s awesome.”
One gets the feeling that when the three Lovell natives get together, laughter comes easy. That bond is one of the reasons Beal, a Lovell native herself, recruited the girls in the first place.
“It’s funny to think I’m coaching them now, in the sense that even when I was in high school as an athlete, they were little kids growing up around me,” Beal said. “I would see them at the gym, or at the games all the time. And I look at Shelby, she’d been to my camps since she was in the fourth grade, I’ve seen her grow up through the camps. They’re just a great group.”
Beal said that, as a coach at the college level, it’s easy to take local talent for granted when looking to recruit. The great thing about Wardell, Savage and McArthur, according to Beal, was their willingness to work out at the college during the off-season. Each was recruited based on those workouts.
“With each of these kids, they come from a good program, work hard and it’s great having local kids on the team, because in a sense, their family becomes part of our team, too,” Beal said.
Savage, the oldest of the bunch, began playing basketball in the third grade — another survivor of Beal’s summer coaching camps.
“My whole family was involved with sports, so I just followed suit,” she explained. “I played all through high school, and after my senior season ended, I didn’t actually plan on coming to play at Northwest, but Charri gave coach my number and I practiced with the team, and next thing I knew, I was telling coach that I really wanted to come play here.”
The biggest difference from high school sports to the collegiate level, for Savage at least, has been the time commitment, as well as the level of competition.
“College basketball is definitely a year-round activity,” Savage said. “There is no off-season. And it’s a lot higher level of competition. You’re with a lot of really good players, and that’s really cool.”
Savage injured her knee during the first week of official practice last season and was given a redshirt deferment. She’s seen spot playing time this season as she continues to rehab her knee.
“I realized what an opportunity it was to play here once I lost it for a moment,” she said. “I have one more year of eligibility, but whether or not I use it is another story. We’ll see.”
Regardless of what she decides to do next season, Savage said she’s enjoyed getting to play with Wardell and McArthur again at the next level.
“I really love it. It’s nice to have someone that you just know you can always talk about ‘Hey, remember when we did this in high school?’” Savage said. “It’s fun.”
Beal said if this is Savage’s final year as a Lady Trapper, she will be missed.
“Savanna is one of the best teammates,” Beal said. “Her positive attitude brings so much to our team. It’s not about stats to her — it’s definitely about what she can do for the team, and staying positive. Even last year, when she was out and couldn’t play, just how positive she was was a huge factor.”
McArthur’s first coach was one she knew pretty well.
“My mom coached me all through growing up, so I was in the gym all of the time,” she said. “I officially started in the third grade in rec league, but I was in the gym long before that.”
McArthur said that, like Savage, she didn’t anticipate playing after high school. But after accepting Beal’s invitation to work out with the team, she decided to give it a shot.
“... I loved it; it was so much fun,” McArthur said. “The atmosphere with the players — even the ones that wouldn’t be there the next year — just made me feel super-welcome. I knew then I wanted to play here.”
Of the three, McArthur has seen the most playing time this season, making the occasional start and averaging about 15 minutes and seven points per game.
“Charri’s definitely a competitor,” Beal said. “She was huge for us last year in our win at Casper, getting the upset and moving on to the tournament, knocking down free throws and being a good shooter. She also does a good job of trying to help the younger players, helping them to learn the system and correct mistakes.”
McArthur said she’s going to miss the team’s family atmosphere next season, especially her childhood friends.
“I love playing with these two; they just know you already,” she said of Savage and Wardell. “They know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it. You don’t even have to question if they’ll have your back. They know when to pick you up; it’s just nice to have that.”
As for Wardell’s journey to NWC, well, that story is now well-documented. But altered team poster notwithstanding, the former Lovell High School Top Senior Athlete is now living out her childhood dream.
“I love it here; I love everything about it,” Wardell said of being a Lady Trapper. “The gym is always open. You never have that in high school. Now it’s like, ‘I don’t have class right now? I can go shoot.’ That has been an awesome opportunity. The team, my coach, I just love every aspect of it.”
Averaging seven minutes and three points per game, Wardell is slowly building the groundwork for what Beal hopes is an expanded role next season. Praising her work ethic, Beal said she expects only good things from Wardell moving forward.
“We recruited Shelby just because she’s a great shooter,” Beal said. “But the thing I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised with is she brings a lot more than just shooting to the table. We joke about how’s she’s an automatic ‘go in and get a rebound’ type player. She really is just that player that’s going to do anything you ask of her.”
As for playing with her friends, Wardell said Savage and McArthur have always believed in her, even in times where she didn’t quite believe in herself.
“Charri and Savanna have always had confidence in me — especially those times where I don’t want to shoot, but I do,” Wardell said. “This year, with those two, I now have confidence when I shoot. They don’t let me get in my head.”
Savage said Wardell has done the same for her on many occasions.
“There were times during high school games where Shelby would literally grab my face and yell at me because I was in my head,” Savage explained. “She’s younger than me, but she didn’t care. She gave me the what-for.”
With the Lady Trappers in a good position for the playoffs, Beal is relishing the final few weeks she’ll have with this group of hometown kids.
“As a group, they’re just a lot of fun,” Beal said. “To see them go from being the little kids on the court when I was playing to now having the opportunity to coach them has been amazing. I tell their folks, ‘I can’t believe that your daughters are old enough for me to be coaching them.’ All that does is show that I’m old.”