HOLLAND, Mich.– Sophomore forward Taylor Young said she and the rest of her St. Thomas women’s basketball teammates felt like the odd ones out at the NCAA tournament team banquet Thursday, March 15.
Each team had a few players give a small speech about its season, and the speakers from Amherst, George Fox and Illinois Wesleyan talked about how excited they were to be back in the Final Four, something that unnerved Young.
“All of the teams talked about how they were returning, and that fired us up because no one thinks we are supposed to be here,” Young said.
Senior guard Carolyn Dienhart, forward Ali Johnson, forward Haley Loesch and center Sarah Smith spoke for St. Thomas. The group first thanked parents, coaches and the St. Thomas community for the support all season. Then they each took turns talking about other coaches who have led St. Thomas teams to national tournaments and gave them motivational speeches during the postseason.
Johnson said she and her teammates were “so blessed” to hear from successful coaches like Steve Fritz, Glenn Caruso and Thanh Pham.
“We didn’t have past experiences, so we shared what we have heard from other (St. Thomas) coaches that have made it this far and what got them here,” Johnson said.
The banquet marked the end of a busy day for the Tommies. The team started its day by traveling to Western Holland Elementary School for a community-service event. The players read to first and second graders and then held a skills clinic in the gym.
Junior guard Kellie Ring said her favorite part of the day was seeing Coach Ruth Sinn interact with the children.
“The kids loved her because she is so energetic,” Ring said. “It was right up her alley.”
Sinn reflected on one girl who stole the players’ hearts during the skills clinic.
“She told us, ‘I really want to come to the game tomorrow, but I know my mom won’t let me… could you just come to our backyard?’” Sinn said.
After the community-service event, the Tommies had lunch and practiced for an hour and a half in the DeVos Fieldhouse.
Ring confessed she was overwhelmed when she first entered the gym.
“To see all the NCAA banners hanging… It made everything so real,” Ring said.
According to Sinn, the team quickly adjusted to the star-struck feeling and had a good practice at the new location. She wanted to make sure her team became familiar with the court.
“The baskets are the same height, and the floors are the same length,” Sinn said.
The players then had some down time before heading to the Haworth Inn Ballroom for the banquet. There was a short social hour before the ceremony where players, coaches and parents mingled.
“It was interesting to see all the girls dressed up and not in their jerseys,” Young said.
At the end of the banquet, tournament officials presented all of the senior players with a pink rose.
Smith called the night “surreal.”
“We know this is our last weekend to play, and it is so much to take in,” Smith said.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.