In the hallway leading to Laurel High School’s gymnasium is a black letter board adorned with all the girls basketball team school records.
It’s probably a good thing the letters and names can easily be taken off and rearranged. Caroline Gibson’s name could take up some more real estate in addition to the two times its already spelled out by the time this season ends. Gibson, a two-time captain and senior point guard for the Lady Spartans, last week eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau, becoming just the fourth Laurel girl to achieve that mark. The week of Jan. 14, she had a two-game stretch where she set and reset career-highs in scoring with 29 and 30 points. In eight games since the calendar flipped to 2019, Gibson is averaging 20.6 points per game, having scored in double figures in each contest.
On Monday, Gibson scored the game-winning layup with 3.5 seconds left to knock off Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 43-42, and forcing a tie atop Section 1-2A as both teams now have identical 10-1 section and 13-4 overall records. In the process, Gibson moved into second place on the all-time scoring list and, with 1,021 career points and four regular season and at least one playoff game left, is within reach of 1981 graduate Rebecca Myers’ school-record 1,206 points.
But all of those individual statistics that will go on the letter board, Gibson is thinking bigger. Like going further in the playoffs than last year’s team, which made the WPIAL quarterfinals and qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history — and even won a first-round game.
“It’d be cool to get to the WPIAL championship,” Gibson said, while also noting the team is taking a one-day-at-a-time approach. “Definitely make a run there and then hopefully another state-playoff run. That was super cool for our program as well because last year was the first year we went to states.”
Gibson, for one, is doing her part for the Lady Spartans. The senior point guard led Laurel to wins over Sto-Rox — stuffing the box score for 17 points, 10 steals and five assists — before scoring 24 against Aliquippa. For her efforts last week, Gibson is the Lawrence County High School Athlete of the Week sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
“Caroline had great performances last week,” coach Matt Stebbins said. “She scored her 1,000th point on Thursday in a big home section win against Aliquippa and had a big performance against Sto-Rox.”
And then she came up big late in the game against OLSH. Forced to sit on the bench with four fouls in the third quarter, Gibson’s teammates actually rallied to cut a nine-point deficit into just four going into the final stanza. Then Gibson came back into the game and scored eight of Laurel’s 15 points in the fourth quarter, capping it off with the game-winning layup.
“It’s steals, it’s assists, it’s rebounds, it’s defense,” Stebbins said. “She’s guarding the other team’s best player half the time. She’s leading the team in assists. She’s leading the team in steals. She’s second or third in rebounding. She’s doing every facet of the game for us. She’s handling the ball 70 percent of the time. She is doing everything for us on both ends of the floor.”
For Gibson, the daughter of Dwayne and Bonnie Gibson and older sister of teammate Faith Gibson, the objective against OLSH was simple — don’t foul. The 4.6-GPA student, who is also Laurel High’s National Honor Society vice president, did just that.
“I definitely just tried to play good defense without fouling,” Gibson said. “I knew I couldn’t make any fouls or else I’d be out, so I just tried to definitely stay clear of any major contact. Offensively, I just tried to make plays and cut the score closer as much as we could.”
The win — OLSH was unbeaten in the section and had already beaten the Lady Spartans by 10 on Laurel’s home floor earlier this month — was arguably the biggest victory in the Laurel basketball careers of both Gibson and Stebbins.
“It was super exciting. It was crazy because all of the odds were against us down there,” Gibson said. “We pulled it out and it was just such a good feeling because we haven’t come out on top yet and now we have.”
Stebbins said Gibson’s leadership has “grown exponentially” this season, but was also pleased with how the rest of the team played with her on the bench in foul trouble. That’s big-game experience the players are gaining, adding on to the knowledge earned from last season’s four playoff contests. Gibson agreed.
“We were very young last year,” Gibson said. “We only graduated one senior. Going that far and having a lot of our younger girls play in big-time games like that has definitely helped and a lot of them have stepped up in big games like that whenever I have had to sit.”
As January quickly will be turning to February, it’s certainly not crazy to think Laurel shouldn’t go on a deep playoff run. So Lady Spartans have an eye on the WPIAL championship game, right?
“Yes, definitely,” Gibson said. “But we have to play one game at a time because the playoffs are one-and-done.”
One-and-done, yes. But if anything, this Lady Spartans team with Gibson as its leader is always going to be in contention, even if it means taking it down to the last 3.5 seconds.