Loud cheers, hugs and high fives were exchanged. The Hall High School Warriors had just beaten their Little Rock rival, the Parkview Patriots, for the 2013 Arkansas Girls State Basketball 6A Championship by a final score of 56-45.
Senior center Katelyn Weber, now a sophomore at USF, and her teammates at the time had waited quite some time for this moment.
Hall High School, known for its athletics, had women’s teams receiving the short straw when it came to national coverage.
“The men got all of the attention, so we had to work our way up and make a name for ourselves,” Weber said. “In a way, we kind of rebuilt the program on our own.”
Going 18 years without a state championship, the Warriors had lost in the semifinal during Weber’s junior year and the quarterfinals the previous two seasons.
Starting all four years under coach Selita Farr, Weber developed a deep connection with her team, eight of them playing together for all four seasons.
By the time the team had become upperclassmen, they turned toward their junior season to serve as the beginning of the team’s legacy.
After rival Parkview snatched a win from them in the semifinal that year, the Warriors were left stunned and distraught; some with tears rolling down their faces.
“Coach Farr comes in and says, ‘I don’t know why you guys are crying, you have a whole year to redeem yourself,’” Weber said. “‘You don’t have any reason to cry about it because you made it this far — you should be proud of yourselves.’
“I feel like senior year, we all looked back at that moment and said to ourselves, ‘that’s not going to happen again.’”
The Warriors went 29-2 during Weber’s final season, ending with revenge against Parkview and a win in the state title.
Weber ended her career at Hall averaging 6.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. After graduating cum laude with honors as a salutatorian of her class, Weber was faced with the choice of where she wanted to pursue her collegiate basketball career.
During recruitment, USF coach Jose Fernandez knew right away that he wanted Weber on his team.
“I knew her best basketball was ahead of her,” Fernandez said. “She was physical, she was smart. She had a great work ethic. She could run the floor.”
After finally deciding to become a Bull, the 6-foot-5 freshman shadowed then-senior center Akila McDonald.
McDonald taught Weber her role in coach Fernandez’s system and how the offense was run through the center position. Weber has always been a physical presence down low, but hopes that she can return the favor for another up-and-coming teammate before she leaves USF.
“If coach brings in a freshman when I’m a senior, I want that freshman to be able to say, ‘Oh, Kate taught me this,’ or ‘I got that from Kate because she was my role model,’” Weber said. “I did learn things from Akila and she helped me a lot even though I don’t think she realizes it, but she did.”
The transition from high school to college isn’t always the easiest to handle, especially when those schools are in different states. Struggling with this at first, Weber became humble upon learning that she was not alone in this change. USF has six international players on its rosters, many making a trip much farther than Arkansas to Florida.
“The fact that they can come overseas, go to school and not see their families more than once or twice a year really says a lot for Americans, where their parents can fly or drive here whenever they want,” Weber said. “Not only are they missing their families when they come overseas, but they don’t have their food or their culture, basically their whole lives.”
With a humbled approach to her play shaping up, Weber started in all but two games she played in this season, starting only three last year.
She has averaged 11.7 minutes, scoring 82 points and grabbing 80 rebounds with 24 blocks. Weber also shot .486 from the field, including a 6-7 effort vs. Middle Tennessee on Dec. 18, earning a career-high 12 points.
Off the court, Weber knows being part of a team runs deeper than shot attempts and bullet passes during games.
“So many people take teamwork for granted, but they don’t actually know what it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” Weber said. “When you’re around a huge group of girls for 90 percent of your time, it can really change your outlook.”
Teammates like sophomore forward Paige Cashin, who is also Weber’s roommate, attest to her hard work and determination.
“She’s very focused on the court, very aggressive,” Cashin said. “(Weber) realizes you can be fun and silly with teammates off the court, but on the court, it’s business.”
Because of her comedic personality, a lot of people find it hard to believe she can be serious, both on and off the court.
“They call me a transformer,” Weber said. “I’m not a mean person, but I turn mean when I’m on the court.”
Weber has let her personality and winning attitude shine through her teammates this year more than ever. Her increased role has only allowed her to become more of an impact for the Bulls and establish herself as the big-time player she wants to be known as.