March 18, 2013
Members of the Navy women's basketball program will be chronicling their thoughts and daily events leading up the Mids making their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament in as many years. This week's first entry is written by head coach Stefanie Pemper.
And don't forget to watch the selection show Monday night at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN as Navy learns which road it will take to the NCAA Tournament. The team will be viewing the show at Federal House Bar & Grille in Downtown Annapolis. All are welcome to join them.
Athletes and coaches take comfort in routines and traditions. Saturday night before the Patriot League Championship game, our captain Kara Pollinger broke tradition. Running into the locker room for our final team meeting, she smiled and gave me a high five, something she's never done in her career. I knew she was up to something.
If our Navy women's basketball team was a band, Kara Pollinger would be our drummer.
Jade Geif would be the lead singer, Alix Membreno lead guitar, ML Morrison on tambourine charming the crowd, and Audrey Bauer would be the talented musician playing any instrument a song needed--saxophone, fiddle, bass. Aja Webb would be on piano because she really does play it beautifully, Erin Meador would be band security, and the rest of our underclass would be background singers and dancers except Rebecca Richmond who would be our road manager working logistics and keeping everyone focused.
It was December 1987, my senior year of high school, and I was playing basketball in a tournament in my hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif, against a team that historically beat us. There were seconds to go in the game, we were down two, and the ball came to me in the backcourt. I dribbled across half-court and launched a shot that found its way in. I got about as excited as I get--a faint smile--when my teammates dog-piled me on the court. "Guys, guys," I said, "let's go, we got overtime." When one of them responded, "Stef, it's a three-pointer. We won!"
Two weeks earlier, with the start of the prep season, came an exciting addition to California high school girl's basketball--the three-point shot. Apparently my teammates and I hadn't made many to that point because I thought my 30-footer was only worth two.
Sitting in the gym that night was an assistant coach from Idaho State University watching me play for the first time. She began calling and months later I would play for the Bengals. I owe a lot to the three-point shot.
I've been asked a few times why we take so many threes at Navy and I typically respond, "Because we're open, we practice them and we have women who like to shoot them." Roll call--Whitney Davidson '09, Kristin Bowen '10, Cassie Consedine '11, Audrey Bauer, Kara Pollinger and now Chloe Stapleton. These women shoot it before they catch it. I had to coerce Angela Myers '11, and twist the arm of Alix Membreno. Erin Edwards '12 had a knack for hitting big ones, and future Marine KC Gordon `10 was just great at following orders.
Cassie might be the most memorable because at 6'2" she'd get her size 12's behind that line and often when she drained one she'd giggle as if she were a Cheshire cat stealing meat off the dinner table. I'll never forget the 30-footer she drilled at Ohio University in 2010 to seal a win, holding her follow-through until the ball went through the net.
Three-pointers are fun. Saturday night in winning the Patriot League Tournament championship we made 13 of 29 threes, shooting the exact same from three as we did from two. Why not?
Somewhere deep in the basketball Bible, believe it or not, there is a mention of gray hair. It's after the importance of allowing your players to practice in tie die socks, but before the importance of adapting to the unexpected. The verse promises coaches that after a period of long suffering over a particular aspect of the game, Behold!, your team will do it really well when you really want them to.
I got a few gray hairs over shooting this year. We lost a couple games missing better shots than we allowed our opponent, and we do numerous shooting drills in practice and never shoot as well as I'd like. There was a glimmer of hope, however, late in the year when our team repeatedly won a drill we call "Harvard shooting." Just maybe their collective confidence was peaking at the right time and if we played the game the right way the basketball gods would bless us. Saturday night in Annapolis, we did, and they did.
If our Navy women's basketball team was a band, the good news is, we aren't splitting up to start solo careers because everyone's coming back.
Reflecting on the championship game driving home, lyrics from a Ani DiFranco song popped into my head, "People use to make records--As in a record of an event--The event of people playing music in a room." Saturday night Kara Pollinger tapped her drumsticks together and started the music with a three-pointer on our opening possession, and improvisation amongst her teammates was the story of the game. Nearly 1,600 fans gathered in Alumni Hall witnessed beautiful expressions of the sport from players on both teams and CBS was there to record it.
Thanks to all who made it a night to remember.