SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - In every cluster of friends, there's always that 'one'.
“Clumsy. She was super funny, outgoing, loving she was always the go-to for everybody,” said Lexi Ivankovich of her friend Roni.
Roni – Veronica Franzese, in full – was that friend for Ivankovich and many others at University High School- in the classrooms and on the Hoopfest team she played on for years.
“She was the one that you always wanted her to be on your team. She was the best person to be around at all times,” Ivankovich said.
Theirs was a friendship born from heartbreak. Both girls had been friends and classmates with Josie Freier and McKenzie Mott, who were killed in a car crash in October 2013. The driver of the car they were in was speeding, and crashed the vehicle into a tree.
It was an accident that rocked the University High community.
“[Roni] was my backbone as well as many others' and she helped me gain my strength back and helped me have faith again. She was just the best blessing I could ask for,” Ivankovich said.
Roni could help Ivankovich move on, but she couldn't prepare her friend for what was coming.
Last month, Roni was killed after her car rolled over south of Cheney. She was 19 years old.
“To get another call from a situation like that, it was the worst thing ever. I didn't want to believe it the first time, and definitely not the second time,” Ivankovich said.
Heartbroken and shocked, Ivankovich and her teammates Maddi and Josie face their first Hoopfest without the one who made it possible.
“It's hard. It's incredibly hard, but every single time that I played with Roni, we have won,” Ivankovich said.
They don't see that changing.
“We're not going to find another person to replace Roni. There's no one that would ever replace her and from here on out we're going to have the same team forever and no one's going to fill her spot,” Ivankovich said.
The teammates are missing their fourth member in more ways than one, but they play on, knowing Roni is still on their side.
“Just to know that she's watching over us, she's smiling. Playing for her is just really what's going to make this Hoopfest just a really special memory,” Ivankovich said.
Their team, Couldn't Find a Sitter (Roni's idea, after the team struggled to find someone to care for a teammate's baby while they played), plays at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday.
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