Nov. 13, 2013: a date that forever changed my life. On this day, I signed my National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Harding University. Many people asked me, “Why Harding?” “What is so special about that place?” “Why D2?”
To be honest, I was not really sure the answer to any of those questions. There was something that just felt right when I was on campus. I knew the coaches were good people who made sure their program was run the right way. I knew I belonged at Harding.
Freshman year is a hard year for everyone, but playing basketball made it a little more complicated for me. Everything was changing, from friends to school to having to learn Coach Tim Kirby‘s way of running the program. My freshman year was a year of learning. I was on a team with four incredible seniors who pushed me outside of my comfort zone every day. There were days when I did not think I was going to make it through the year, but they made sure I was going to even if that meant they were going to drag me through it. At the time, I did not understand why they cared so much about me or why they pushed me in practice, games and even in everyday life situations like they did. Now I get it. I will always have a special place for that group of seniors who taught this “baby Bison” what being a Lady Bison was about. It wasn’t solely about winning but how to make each other better players and at the end of the day better people.
The 2016-2017 season was an experience of a lifetime. My junior year was a year full of adversity and memories that will never fade. We had referees late for games that led to a karaoke contest, bus breakdowns that ended with a great mannequin challenge video and injuries that turned into comebacks; you name it, and it probably happened. This group was truly one of a kind on and off the floor. No one expected us to make a deep run in to the NCAA Tournament, but I always thought in the back of my mind this group could make it happen.
One of my most memorable games to ever play in my career was the NCAA Regional Championship hosted at Harding. When I say there is no place like Rhodes-Reaves Field House, I mean it. Our game atmosphere is truly one of a kind. It was the loudest, craziest game I’ve ever played in. The Harding fans, called the Rhodes Rowdies, created a monumental home court advantage. Down by 16 at one point, we fought back to take the lead late in the game. I subbed out of the game for the last seconds, and I remember thinking to myself, “Take it all in, Sis. This is a game you will remember for a lifetime.” It was an awesome experience cutting down the nets in Rhodes in front of all of our fans to extend our season to the Elite Eight. We flew to Columbus, Ohio, and I remember sitting on the plane thinking about how the tournament I had always dreamed of playing in was becoming a reality. That year we continued on to the Final Four, where our Cinderella story ended to the soon-to-be national champion. It is pretty amazing to say we were in the top four of the more than 300 teams in D2.
Even with all of the wins last year, this season was special in its own way. The wins and losses were not what I wanted them to be, but the group of girls I was surrounded with made me realize how important it is to be a family. When things were rocky, I knew every girl had my back at the end of the day. We won 10 of our last 12 regular season games and the quarterfinals and semi-finals of the GAC Conference Tournament to play in my third conference championship game in four years.
I knew there was a chance the GAC Conference Championship game could be my last, but I honestly did not think it would be. When the final buzzer sounded and we were down by one, I had an instant flood of memories. I remember feeling all of the feelings walking to shake the other teams hand one final time. I had flashbacks to my high school teams and all of the girls who had come and gone in college. I was not ready for it to be over. I walked off the floor that last time and had no regrets. I knew I gave it all I had for many years, and it was time for me to say goodbye to the game I loved dearly.
College basketball isn’t always as glamorous as people make it sound, but the journey makes it special. The early morning practices, the miles of running on the track, the long bus rides – the list could go on and on. But through everything that happened through the years, I will always look back and remember the people who were beside me. I have made so many “forced friendships” as the girls and I call them, but I wouldn’t have it any another way.
At some point I will forget most of the wins and losses, but the bonds I’ve built with my teammates will last a lifetime. Sydnie Jones and Falan Miller, two girls who I thought I would never like turned out to be two of my bridesmaids. Kellie Lampo, my travel partner, turned into being one of my favorite freshmen of all time besides Peyton Padgett, of course. Chelsea Heidebrecht, my recruit on Midnight Madness, turned into my roommate who always had to cut up my pineapple. Allie Brown, the girl always up for an adventure took many road trips with me. Jenni Nadeau the quiet girl from Maine, who was one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. Andi Haney, one of my best friends who always kept me laughing even when things were tough. Mackenzie McNamara, the girl I could always count on for a good conversation when ice cream was involved. All of our relationships are special in their own way. It is funny how a basketball can bring you some of the most precious friendships that will last forever. There are so many memories I will hold through the years, and the stories we will tell when we come back to visit.
Each year brought unforgettable memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Of course, it is always fun to win games and make history, but it is even more special when you are doing it with the people you love around you.
To the Harding fans, thank you a million times for taking in this small-town girl and making me a part of your family. I will always cherish the relationships I made outside of basketball. I can’t wait to come back and sit in the stands and cheer along with you!
To Coach Weston Jameson, thank you for countless pre-game pep talks, the many counseling sessions, and your friendship. It was special getting to play for you after all of the years of knowing each other. I could never thank you enough for the impact you have made on my life through the years.
To Coach Kirby, thank you for taking a chance on me. It was an honor to play for you. Through the smiles and the tears, you have always been one of my biggest supporters and pushed me to be the best I could possibly be on and off the floor. You will always have a special place in my heart.
To my family, thank you for never missing a home game. When I come into Rhodes, it will be different not seeing you all in the top corner behind the bench. I will never forget the times you all sat there cheering on the Lady Bisons. I am thankful we were able to share these last four years together.
To my parents and Jordan, without you three I would have never made it this far. I am so blessed I have had you as my support system through the years. You have sacrificed so much throughout your life to make sure my dreams of being a college basketball player came true, and for that I am forever grateful. I will never have enough words to be able to tell you how much I love you and am so thankful for the times we had together in a gym.
To say I am sad to see it all come to a close is an understatement. The last four years of my life have been life changing. As I walk away, I can say whole-heartedly this experience has prepared me in every way possible for what my next chapter holds.
H A R D I N G … It was an honor to wear those seven letters across my chest.
Lady Bison 2014-2018,