A memorable press conference

By Chris Bils

Yesterday’s national championship press conference was, well… different than I expected. I mean, nothing interesting ever happens at these things, right? It’s just a chance for a few players and the coach of both teams to stare each other down while a slew of reporters ask the usual questions.

“How did you get here?”

“What do you think it will be like to play for a national championship?”

… On and on and on with no end in sight.

So maybe it’s my fault. I didn’t stick to the script.

I guess I have to go back to the night before. As I walked down the steps to take my place on media row for the Final Four game between Ashland and Western Washington, I noticed that Dowling—who had just defeated Augustana to advance to the championship—was praying.

It’s not that unusual. A lot of teams pray before and after games, asking God for strength and thanking Him for keeping them healthy. The reason this particular prayer circle caught my eye, I think, is because of how long it lasted. I could tell that the Golden Lions were into it, which made me think that God must be important to them.

Why was this significant? Well, anyone who has followed Sue Ramsey and her team knows that God is a big part of everything Ashland does. It’s part of who they are as a team and it is a big reason they have been as successful as they have.

I wondered: does Dowling have a similar relationship? So I asked about it.

“That is the basis of the squad,” senior guard Seja Gamble said. “It’s awesome, because everyone might not come from the same background of knowing who God is and everything like that, but everybody is willing to allow me to lead the prayer and they’re accepting of it.”

Sound familiar? The words especially struck a chord with AU senior forward Kari Daugherty, who started tearing up as she gave her response.

“That’s awesome,” Daugherty said. “It gives me chills.”

Of course, Daugherty would not be here if it was not for her faith. After starting her career at Dayton, she chose to transfer to Ashland because she wanted to be somewhere where she could grow spiritually while playing basketball. Sue Ramsey’s program gave her that opportunity.

“God has been a really big part of our program,” Daugherty said. “For me, I got hurt this season midway and to be able to come back and experience this and to be able to play against an opponent who wants to glorify God just as much as we do is really incredible.”

At that moment, it was hard to find a dry eye in the house. Gamble was trying to hold back tears of her own as her opponent moved the mic away and shared a tearful hug with Ramsey.

Maybe to those who have not been around for the past two years to see the presence of the Lord with Ashland women’s basketball and Daugherty it seemed cheesy or cliché, but to me it could not have been more perfect.

I go back to the profile I did on Daugherty over the summer, and how very little of that story was about basketball. Most of it was about her personal journey and how she has been able to glorify God through her immense basketball talents.

Nothing was guaranteed to her when she made the decision to transfer. In fact, to most people it must have seemed like she was sacrificing a great Division I career, something that most women who grow up playing basketball dream about.

It’s difficult to express just how much I have learned and grown from the opportunity I have had to cover this team for the past two seasons. Even more special has been the honor of watching one of the best basketball players in the country and the way she conducts herself on and off the court.

No one wants to win more than Daugherty. Competition is in her blood, and it is what makes her such a great basketball player. But tonight, win or lose, this team and Kari Daugherty will be champions in my heart, in the hearts of everyone who has followed them and, I hope, in the hearts of everyone who watches the national championship.

How fitting that her opponent in the biggest game of her life was the one to express the sentiment that she gives after almost every game.

“God is bigger than this game,” Gamble said. “God is with both these teams. It’s evident. Both of us have a deep root in Him. Even though we’re here, it’s not all for our glory. It’s all for Him. Whatever happens, we just know that He has control of everything.”