Although my season on court ended over months ago, I’ve spent the last three and a bit months going to (nearly) every practice and game, and so although I haven’t been playing, I still have very much been part of Allegheny College’s Women’s basketball team.
And this last week reassured me, why I stuck around.
We ended our regular season with a spectacular senior day game against Denison University on Feb. 20. The game came down to the wire and we ended up losing by three. It was disappointing, but we knew we would get another crack at them if we made it to the semi-finals. Denison were top of the conference and nationally ranked, besides, it was one of the best games of basketball the team had played all year.
We finished fourth in the conference, which meant we qualified for a home play off game against fifth-seeded Oberlin College. This game was something special in itself. The whole school rallied behind us as we advertised for people to come down and support us, to give us the student section we wished we had at every game. Well we got what we asked for and it was awesome.
The Wise Center was packed with students, peers, professors, staff and members of the broader community. We won by eight points, and at the end of the game, the entire student section stormed the court. Although I didn’t join in the jumping and boisterous excitement of the mob on the court, it’s still a moment that I’m happy to say that I was a part of.
The play-off game set us up to travel to Denison University for a semi-final rematch. Not only had Denison swept us (won 2-0) during the regular season, but we have played them as our quarterfinal play off game for the past two years and lost both times. We had a win coming our way. We were still buzzing from our last victory and we wanted to win. Badly. This team is one of the closest group of girls I’ve had the opportunity to play with, and none of us were ready to let our season end just yet. We had the pleasure of being led by five amazing seniors and no-one wanted to see them leave.
We arrived late Thursday night before our 8pm game the next day. We left for the gym early to watch the semi-final before ours, the victor of which we were hoping to match up against in the championship game the next day. That semi-final was won on a three pointer, shot in the dying second of the game. It was heartbreaking to watch the girls from third-seeded Kenyon walk downtrodden to their bench. They came so close only to have the game pulled out from under them in the last second. None of us wanted to be in their shoes. None of us wanted to lose.
Our game was a well fought battle throughout. We finished the first quarter ahead and were up by 1 at the half. We clung to that one point by the end of the third quarter, only to find ourselves down by 2 going into the last 10 seconds of the game. One of the seniors hit a jump shot in the final two seconds to tie the game up and send us into overtime.
We were so close. We couldn’t lose now.
The five minutes of overtime were just as tight as the previous 40 minutes of the game. The lead went back and forth and once again it came down to the last minute, to the last thirty seconds. We were down by 2 with 13 seconds to go. Somehow we managed to get the ball into the hands of our three point shooter and she got a shot off within the last second of overtime. It quivered in the air before finally settling into the bottom of the net.
We had won. We couldn’t believe it. There was no time to question it. We had done it.
We stormed the court – all 14 of us on the bench, plus coaches and assisting staff – we jumped and screamed and yelled with delight. We were going to the final. Our season was still alive. We had played a close game, a great game of basketball and come out on top.
We made it to the Championship game for the first time in five years. If we had won it would have been the first NCAC championship for women’s basketball at Allegheny in 27 years. Unfortunately we fell short of earning those championship rings we wanted so badly and suddenly had a real shot at. Our final game didn’t go as we hoped and we went down to a well-drilled team.
The high from our semi-final carried us through the defeat and realization that the season was finally over. That semi-final was our shining moment of the season. That’s the game we’ll be telling our kids about.
People always tell me that it’s not the hours spent at practice or even on the court that I will remember, but moments in the locker room, in the hotel rooms, on the bus; moments spent with my teammates that will be my lasting memory of college basketball. Having spent the most part of this year off the court, I appreciate this more than ever. However, that semifinal game I know with absolute certainty will be something that every one of us will remember.