Warriors overcome tragic death of teammate to win ‘B’ title

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One day after celebrating the school’s first PSAL Class B girls’ volleyball championship, the Benjamin Banneker players and coach Wendell Saunders were in tears Sunday.

On Nov. 12, Verderey Knights, a senior on the Lady Warriors, died due to complications from a blood clot in her leg. The team, Saunders and administrators from the school attended her funeral Sunday in Brooklyn.

The coach described Knights, a four-year varsity player, as “a motivator” and her untimely death made the Banneker players work even harder toward its goal of a city championship. Saunders, school administrators and counselors gathered the team together the day after Knights’ death to tell them the tragic news.

“They took that hard,” Saunders said.

But through the tears, the Lady Warriors fought back. They decided to practice that very same day – with a renewed fervor.

“They decided we were gonna win this for Verderey,” Saunders said.

And that’s exactly what Banneker did. With a photo of Knights attached to each of their jerseys, the third-seeded Lady Warriors completed an undefeated season with a sweep of defending champion and top-seed Franklin D. Roosevelt on Saturday at York College.

“To beat the best and defending champion made it even sweeter,” Saunders said.

The coach recalls Knights, who was also a model, telling him a few weeks ago about pain in her legs and she had not played much this year because of it. A week before her death, Saunders said, Knights went to the hospital and was released with seemingly nothing wrong.

“It’s mind-boggling,” he said.

Saunders said he wasn’t sure how his players were going to take it at first. He was looking for body language in practice to see how they were coping with the death of their teammate and friend.

“They could have went into a shell,” he said.

There was almost further tragedy for Banneker on Wednesday night, one day before the semifinals. Janay Bondswell and Angelica Hector were crossing a street near the school while walking a teammate to a bus stop and were hit by a car. Neither was seriously hurt, luckily, but both had to be rushed to the hospital and Bondswell sat out Thursday’s semifinal match against Manhattan Center with a sprained ankle.

Somehow, the Lady Warriors were able to put all of this – a sure tragedy and a near one – out of their heads to win a city title.

“We held our composure,” Saunders said. “If you were watching us play, you would have never known all this stuff has happened.”

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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