Courtesy of Tim Sofranko
At the start of the basketball season, I asked my fellow Guilfordians to remember the names of every player on the Guilford College women’s basketball team. At the time, it may have seemed like a tall order to fill. However, the Lady Quakers turned the 2015-2016 basketball season into one that will be hard to forget, making it a bit easier for all to remember just who they are.
On Monday, Feb. 29, it was announced that the team would be traveling to Kentucky to take their rightful place in Division III’s version of the “Big Dance” that every college team wants a ticket to: The NCAA Division III Tournament.
“The NCAA looks at each team’s complete body of work throughout the season when choosing from the 20 at-large bids,” said head coach Stephanie Flamini in an email interview. “(Guilford) was one of 20 teams throughout the entire country to be selected for the tournament.”
On Friday, March 4, the Guilford women’s basketball team would be taking the court at Thomas More College to face the Mount Union Raiders and make their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2013.
“The opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament is going to be a great experience against some very good competition,” said assistant woman’s basketball coach Madison Dulaney. “Mount Union is a veteran team who has some NCAA tournament experience and will definitely be a tough matchup. Fortunately for us, we’ve played several NCAA tournament-caliber teams, which will help us.”
Prior to the game, Dave Walters, Guilford’s sports information director, explained how the weekend would go, sharing that Flamini had planned the team’s stay in Kentucky as if they had already won their first game.
Hours later, it was apparent that the coach’s prediction, like the team’s entire season, was more than a lucky guess but an accurate predictionof what was to come.
Within the first half of the game, sophomore guard Lauren Ramsey, junior guard Heaven Walters and freshman guard Essence Abraham each made crucial three-pointers.
Despite the Raiders coming hard at the team point-for-point, the ladies did not back down. If they were tired one could not tell. Call it good conditioning, but I like to think of it as heart.
“I’m going into this game with all intentions to move on to the next level,” said junior forward Anais Weatherly in an email interview. “And we advanced to the next round of the tournament.”
I must admit that there were times that I got caught up in the game for the love of the sport. The purple of the Raiders and burgundy of our Quakers fell away, and I just saw two teams going head-to-head. The ball glided from fingers like butter. Athletes collided, while others encountered near-misses. There was this grace commingled with a ferocious appetite to conquer.
As I find myself being carried away deeper into the essence of the game, my attention is quickly diverted.
The scoreboard screams that we are in the third quarter. The score is 41-34 in Mount Union’s favor.
Abraham is suddenly knocked in the face by an opposing teammate. The sounds that emerge from the crowd take me back to fight night in Vegas. But this is basketball. There will be no bells ringing, white towels being thrown in nor does Abraham fall to the ground.
However it becomes quickly apparent that something is not right while she is looked over at the team’s bench.
A timeout is called.
Flamini must tell the team to keep their feet within the court lines as they rush over to tend to Abraham. Soon the Guilford bench is crowded with paramedics, NCAA officials and Quaker staff. It is not long before Abraham is wheeled out of the game to be taken to the hospital for further observation.
The game is on.
The team surpasses going hard in the paint. They have stripped the wax off the floorboards. The game ends 61-57 in favor of the Quakers.
“That’s our sister (Abraham),” said first-year forward Ymani Breedlove. “We were playing for ‘E’.’”
The next evening, the season ends for the Quakers.
Despite the stats, I had held my breath for a David and Goliath moment. This was the same team that had placed second in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and was picked sixth in the preseason poll, the same team who brought the Guilford women’s basketball team to the playoffs.
But maybe it was meant for them to only taste of the moment.
There is one moment that happened during the weekend the Quakers landed on Thomas More’s campus that meant more than who won or loss to me.
Last few seconds of the game against Thomas More, two little kids yelled out for their sisters who were playing their hearts out on that court. I could hear their piercing voices through the hundreds of More fans that erupted like a thunder cloud due to the impending win. Those two kids were rooting for women that were playing opposite each other. These children had no words of dissension toward one another. All the love they could muster was being thrown toward the court.
That is basketball folks: pure unadulterated passion for the love of the game and the players that play it.
I am going to miss the basketball season but look forward to its return.