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Prep basketball: Lone senior Abby Musselwhite does what it takes to bolster history
Gainesville senior Abby Musselwhite boxes out teammate Jasmine Jones during the Lady Red Elephants’ practice on Thursday at Gainesville High. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Stand on any spot on the court at the Gainesville High gym, facing the front entrance, and look up.

Banners commemorating state championships, region championships and Lanierland championships hang from a wall high above the court.

Red and white fabric emblazoned with tradition.

Look to your left and pictures adorn the walls — pictures of state championship teams.
It’s said in athletics that tradition, unlike a star player, never graduates and for lone Lady Red Elephants’ senior Abby Musselwhite, epitomizing that has been her career goal.

Five years ago, as an eighth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, Musselwhite took on the role of manager for the Lady Red Elephants varsity squad.

In between handing out cups of water and towels, she observed players leading and winning, and made a mental note that when she got there, when it was her turn, she would carry on those traditions.

“Tradition means everything to me,” Musselwhite said. “It’s why I’m here.”

When the senior center began playing at Gainesville, the program was coming off the era of All-American and three-time state champion Tasha Humphrey and was looking for an identity void of her presence.

“When I came in, we were good,” Musselwhite said, “but it wasn’t like it had been where we were the best.”

Over the course of Musselwhite’s first three years with the Lady Red Elephants, the teams amassed a 63-25 record, but did nothing to add their years to the banners hanging on the wall.

Musselwhite wanted this year, her final year doning the red and white, to be different. So she reached back to her early days and found inspiration in the tradition and the players that made it so.

“Abby wanted to be a leader,” Gainesville High coach Manson Hill said, “and she studied other leaders that we’ve had.”

“The beginning of the year I didn’t know how to balance. I came into this year thinking that I had to be everything because I was the only senior,” Musselwhite said.

But she quickly realized that being everything for her team didn’t encompass being the leading scorer, rebounder or shot blocker but, rather, simply being a leader.

"The team took a lot of pressure off of me because everyone is good and fills their role,” Musselwhite said.

“Abby speaks up,” Hill said, “but leadership isn’t always about getting on someone who has fallen down on the job. She is the first to encourage, too.

“The team falls right in behind her and they know what she is talking about and the reason she’s telling them things.”

According to her coach, Musselwhite is the first to dive on the floor for loose balls, is eager to body up the opponent’s best player and plays well whether she starts, plays limited minutes or plays heavy minutes.

“My role fits me,” Musselwhite said.

“I’ve never been outstanding, but I’ve always been stable. I’ll give it my best and I like doing the effort things.”

Her unselfish and unbridled efforts led to Gainesville winning a region title this year, the first title of any sort Musselwhite has won since being on the Lady Red Elephants.

“I looked up to girls in this program for winning,” Musselwhite said.

“For the region title to be won is kind of like I’ve made it. I hope the younger girls want to continue the tradition like I did.”

“This is the closest team we’ve had at Gainesville in a long time,” Hill said, “and it starts with Abby’s leadership.”

The outcome of the hereafter is not set in stone, the Lady Red Elephants have a tough row to hoe to make it to the finals in Macon, but one thing is for sure, the lone senior on this year’s Gainesville team will leave it better than it was before and for her, that’s what really matters.

“I have a wonderful team and we’re doing well and playing well,” Musselwhite said. “I feel like I’ll be leaving in a good place.”

Gainesville plays host to Southside at 6 p.m. Saturday during the opening round of the Class AAA state playoffs.

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