BUTTE, Mont. (AP) - Quinn Peoples is a competitor, about that there is no doubt.
The Butte Central alum was in Pomona, Calif., through this past weekend, trying to help the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. Peoples, a forward, helped the Yellowjackets build a six-point halftime lead against Cal Poly-Pomona on Monday, but it wasn’t to be.
The Broncos rallied in the second half, winning 75-68.
The loss ended the Yellowjackets’ season. The loss was disappointing. The loss hurt. Yet, it was Peoples’ easiest loss to take during the past week.
Her biggest loss came last Thursday, with the death of her older sister.
Mairissa Peoples died at the age of 23 after a long and admirable battle with cancer.
No one would have blamed Quinn if she had opted to be with her sister, rather than play basketball in Pomona, where the Yellowjackets had games scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Monday. After all, family is family. Basketball is just a game.
But Mairissa wouldn’t allow it.
“I asked her if she wanted me to stay,” Quinn recalled. “She looked at me and said, ‘No,’ and gave me this look and said, ‘I am watching your game on Friday, you can’t stay here.’
“I knew I needed to go, because she knew if I missed out on this, something I had worked hard for my whole life, she would be very upset with me. She would have done anything herself to play in a regional basketball tournament.”
So Quinn got on a plane and made the trip to California to be with her team. It was the toughest trip she has had to make in her life, even though it was to play the sport that she loved.
“I came home Monday (March 10) night, really late and spent all of Tuesday with her. Wednesday, I was flying out from Butte about 1 p.m.,” Quinn said about the events of last week. “The nurse was there, telling my mom and dad that that the time was coming around. It was really hard.
“She had really changed from Monday night to Wednesday morning.”
Quinn was set to leave for her flight and knew she would have to say goodbye, most likely for the last time.
“I knew there was a chance I could see her again if we lost (that Friday) or if I would have come home and she would have pushed through,” Quinn said. “I knew I had to say my goodbyes.”
Mairissa never did watch Friday’s game against Academy of Art University. She died early Thursday morning, hours after Quinn boarded her flight to California. Quinn took the trip with a peace of mind, provided by Mairissa’s blessing and promise to watch Friday’s game.
“She told me before I left, ‘I’m OK, I promise, I’m fine,’” Quinn said. “She looked at me and … I knew it was a hard decision.”
Quinn’s decision to go was even tougher because of her allegiances to her family. A big part of her wanted to stay home to support her parents, Don Jr. and Barb, her younger brother, Danny, and sister, Mollie.
“It was real tough, but I think that the most prevailing thing about it all was that basketball was a special bond between Quinn and Mairissa,” Don said. “We believe how important it is that team comes first and it was an absolute that she had to be with her team. We told her when she left, it would be the best way to honor her sister.”
Don was pleased that Quinn was able to be a loyal teammate while still being connected to her family through her actions.
“Mairissa was always so proud of Quinn and what she did on the basketball court,” he said. “I believe she would have been very proud of her. She played really hard, and it seemed like she had inspiration this weekend to play for her sister.”
Quinn might have played hard, but every step, each shot, the rebounds and passes all came with an added weight behind them.
“I was going through it in such an odd way,” Quinn admitted. “I had to say goodbye and then I had to fly out miles and miles away from my family in Butte. I had to mourn and deal with it somewhere else.
“After the games I was so worn. It took a lot out of me every game.”
Her first game wasn’t her best, but admittedly she was ‘almost battling with myself not to break mentally. It was hard to get in the game. . I was so excited that we won, and I knew being there and winning was so much more important that I was there.”
In the regional semifinal win over Simon Fraser on Saturday, Quinn had nine points and an above-average seven rebounds. It was her best game of the weekend.
“I was mentally locked in,” she said.
In the season-ending loss to Cal Poly-Pomona, Quinn scored eight points in the first half, before going scoreless in the last 20 minutes. That was thanks in part to the Broncos’ defense, and also her hitting the emotional wall.
“It was a mixture of both,” she said. “In the first half I was hitting shots and driving and in the second half I was searching for something to do . it was hard.
“When it was over, I was exhausted.”
Danny Peoples was able to watch his sister play and knowing what it took only made him prouder of his older sister.
“It was what Mairissa wanted her to do,” he said. “After Mairissa passed, she decided to play hard and not play down. I know it would have been very hard for me, personally, to play and keep it together. But she handled it really well and played like Mairissa was right behind her - being where she wanted her to be.”
Quinn hopes to spend her final year with the Yellowjackets playing, not just for herself, but to honor the memory of her sister who gave her the blessing and encouraged her to go on and just play.
“Mairissa always taught me the value of hard work and I always learned from her that things don’t always go perfect or as planned,” Quinn said. “But taking it day-by-day, week-by-week is the best I can do, and that’s what I have been doing the last seven years of my life (since Mairissa’s diagnosis), living behind Mairissa.
“She taught me how much passion and determination you have to put into something. If I am going to do something I am going to do it wholeheartedly. That’s how Mairissa lived.”
Information from: The Montana Standard, https://www.mtstandard.com
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