Riley Chlupacek has had much to be thankful for in her solid basketball career, both at the high school and collegiate level. As the senior guard at LaGrange College plays in her final games, she is able to look back at her time on the hardwood with many great memories as she closes a chapter and starts another one.
Chlupacek, a 2015 product of Rabun County, has a lot of fond moments to choose from.
“I’ve had a lot of special nights out on the floor,” says Chlupacek. “Going 7-for-10 at Berry with 25 points was definitely one of those, but the region championship of my senior year (14-15) with that 1.1-second buzzer beater will always hold a place in my heart. That feeling was almost out of body and having Coach [DeeDee] Dillard put her faith in me after I hadn’t hit all night, really means something from both sides.”
Lady Wildcat fans remember that moment vividly, as Chlupacek’s epic shot gave Rabun the region title and propelled it to the state playoffs. Chlupacek was a constant in one of the state’s top programs, as she was a part of a senior class that tallied 76 wins and made the playoffs all four seasons, including a pair of Sweet 16 appearances.
Her career has been solid since leaving Rabun for LaGrange. A four-year contributor to the Lady Panthers, the guard was averaged 4.6 points per game over the years, including a junior year that saw her go for 8.2 points per game. She has played in 86 games (starting 32), and has 396 career points. She averages nearly an assist per game and one rebound per game as well.
In this, her senior season, she hasn’t played as many minutes as last year, but her role is even more vital to the program. She does many of the things that don’t appear on a stat sheet, but when needed she will be that person. Three times this year she’s reached double-figures, including 18 a little more than a week ago against Maryville on senior night, when she drilled six-of-seven 3-pointers in front of friends and family.
With so many minutes played over the years in regular season and postseason games, endless minutes in practices and summer ball, the love for the game is still there.
“I’ve actually had so many people ask me this question,” she says on being asked about battling the ‘burn out’ so many players face. “You probably know only about 4% of women go on to play college basketball at any level, and even less than that play all four years. There is something to be said for doing it that long. Every year kind of starts over and you literally have to earn your playing time every day, from senior to freshman anything goes and it isn’t always fair. I wish I could tell you some perfect story of resilience but honestly, there were so many days that it would’ve been so easy to walk out and so many times that things just weren’t going our way, both personally and team-wise. You almost have to be mentally unbreakable; you always hear people say ‘next play’ in basketball and that is literally how you have to live, and I don’t think it’s for most people. I think without this experience I would be a completely different person and I’m so thankful that the opportunity was presented the way that it was and I could not have done it without my family. They will never know how much I appreciate them.”
Chlupacek’s family no doubt deserves the recognition for her success, as do her teammates and coaches along the way. One coach in particular, current Lady Cats great DeeDee Dillard, holds a special place in Chlupacek’s heart.
“Ohh…Coach Dillard. We still keep up with each other pretty well and are always joking, giving each other a hard time,” says Chlupacek. “But if I had to say one thing she instilled in me, it’s definitely just being mentally tough. She was never easy on me, and a lot of times things came back on me and I had to learn how to deal with it. I think our dynamic was kind of different than a lot of players she coached, and I feel like we learned from each other in that way. That’s kind of been my mindset since I graduated…I know I can emotionally and physically handle anything thrown at me and a lot of it goes back to that.”
So while Riley Chlupacek still has some work to do, with LaGrange set to take the court in the first round of the USA South Tournament today at 7 PM at Maryville, she knows any game could be her last. No doubt she has no regrets, but it won’t make the final buzzer sounding any easier.
“I think it’ll be very bittersweet,” she says. “I love the game, but I think there comes a time when chapters close and you have to be okay with that. I’m so excited for what the rest of my life has in store.”
Feature Photo by LaGrangePanthers.com