Willingboro's Imani Stepney a battler

Willingboro's Imani Stepney (right) battles for the ball in a 2012 game against Rancocas Valley. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Willingboro's Imani Stepney (right) battles for the ball in a 2012 game against Rancocas Valley. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 24, 2013

Spotlight on: Willingboro senior Imani Stepney

On Tuesday, the night before its biggest win in years, the Willingboro girls' basketball team held a team dinner.

It was a bonding exercise. And it led to a conversation that resonated with every player.

"As we were talking, we all just realized and really started to believe that this was our year," senior guard Imani Stepney said. "I feel like we left that night feeling closer as a team, and that helped us come out ready to play against RV."

On Wednesday, for the first time in four years, Stepney's Chimeras (10-2), ranked No. 4 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, toppled No. 1 Rancocas Valley (11-1).

The 55-48 win came on their home court.

A key difference between the teams, said Stepney, who scored 13 points, was Willingboro's energy and, most notably, its confidence entering the game.

Confidence is something Stepney has been forced to lean on for much of her high school basketball career.

As a sophomore, she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and missed the entire season.

Her junior season was a battle: rehabbing, fighting, trying to recover the game that once looked so promising.

"It was really tough," Stepney said. "It was a long way back. But I just always had confidence. I always believed I would keep getting better. And that's what I've done."

On a team with, seemingly, an endless supply of scorers, Stepney is holding her own, averaging double figures.

But scoring, according to Chimeras coach Marchelle Coleman, is not Stepney's biggest strength.

"She's our unsung hero," Coleman said. "Her biggest role is the quiet things she does for us. [Wednesday,] when we played our 3-2 matchup [defense], she was able to pick us up all over the floor, wherever we needed her. She rebounds. She crashes the boards. She just plays good basketball."

For Stepney, the win over Rancocas Valley validated her belief in her team, just as her own play this season has validated her belief in herself.

"Words can't even express how much the win means," said Stepney, who is set to play for Division II American International next season. "It just gives us more motivation. We have the faith that we can go really far this year."

- Chris Melchiorre

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