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A heart-felt homecoming

December 19, 2018

PORTAGE — On the night Renee Turpa returned to the place where she is the winningest basketball coach in school history, the beloved Marquette assistant was lauded by Portage for a lifetime of contributions to the sport and girls athletics in general.

And she had no idea whatsoever it was going to happen.

“Not a clue, I mean I was in shock,” Turpa said as she was greeted with hugs and kind words from a parade of friends after a 58-27 Marquette win that was the backdrop for the occasion. “They got me. That was really nice. It was weird when they started playing the school fight song. I wanted to do, Go Portage High School... I don’t know that I can put it into words. I’m kind of speechless. That never happens. It brought back memories and emotions that I didn’t think I had. I love both schools.”

Turpa taught at Portage for 32 years, 17 of which she spent as the girls head coach, during which time she won 207 games. As the teams took the floor for the national anthem, public address announcer Mike Martinez acknowledged Turpa and began to list a lengthy string of accomplishments. In a matter of seconds, her eyes began to well.

“It was special to see a coach who put in so many years, what she’s done,” said Portage’s Marc Bruner, who raised the idea of honoring Turpa to Blazers coach Katie Collignon. “It’s not always as glamorous as it seems. It was more for our girls to understand she’s somebody who fought for them to be able to do what they do. This wasn’t always a thing. People like coach Turpa battled to keep the girls game relevant. I don’t know her that well, but being here, I can’t find anybody who doesn’t go on and on about how great her and her husband (Pete) are. Around the state, you find the same thing. I’m sure you won’t find anybody with a differing opinion.”

Collignon told Turpa that Portage was going to be recognizing swimmers, but as Turpa caught on to what was happening, Collignon said she told her, “Thanks for the heads up.”

“I knew she wouldn’t want it to be about her,” Collignon said. “I was so excited for her. She deserves it. She put her mark here. She talks about (Portage) and she still gleams with pride about the school, as she should. She’s very special. All the girls were so happy for her. Coach T is so great. She brings so much to our program. She’s just such a lovable person. She radiates that. The girls feel that every day. It’s awesome to come back here and have them honor her.”

Turpa’s husband Pete also threw his wife off the scent by telling her he wasn’t coming to the game. Collignon only told Blazers senior Emmery Joseph during the school day to let her know she would present Turpa with a plaque.

“Coach Turpa is such an important part of our team,” Joseph said. “I was a little giddy just thinking how exciting this must be for her. How much impact she’s made on Indiana basketball in general, she’s really paved the way. She’s been a role model. We were waiting for the tears of happiness and it didn’t take long. It was a really awesome experience see them honor her.”

Joseph and the Blazers (10-1) needed little time to seize control of the game, jumping in front 8-0 on two Morgan Crook 3s on their way to a 26-4 second-quarter lead. The margin was 26 at the half and peaked at 33 (51-18) early in the fourth.

“Obviously they’re a big-time program,” Bruner said. “You don’t know how good they are until you see them. They’ve got one 6-2 deer rebounding and throwing to the other 6-2 deer who is already running down the floor. We’re a quick team, but that’s a whole different world. We gave up some size on the glass. We’re trying to face guard Emma (Nolan) with 5-5 Jayden Lowe. When we made them set up, we made them earn what they wanted. The Crook girl was lights out.”

Collignon was happiest about a defensive effort that held Portage (4-8) to 29 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers.

“I thought we had some letdowns Saturday,” she said. “We always say we hang our hats on defense and I thought we did that.”

Emma Nolan led the scoring with 21 points to go with nine rebounds, five steals and four blocks. Sophia Nolan added 17 points, 10 boards and three steals. Most of Crook’s 11 points came on three first-quarter 3s.

“It was a good experience for us,” Bruner said.

Afterward, Turpa headed to the locker room that used to be hers to talk to the Indians, a gesture Bruner appreciated and believed his girls did as well.

“I just wanted them to realize we were in this position two years ago, when we went down to Argos and got beat,” Turpa said. “It was kind of a reality check that maybe we didn’t work as hard. I told them their defense was the best we’ve played against. I just wanted to thank them and let them know to keep working.”

Marquette 58, Portage 27

Emma Nolan had 21 points, nine rebounds, five steals and four blocks.

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