Women’s Basketball Finds Strength in Family Culture

Marah Alindogan

A common question that Head Women’s Basketball Coach Michelle Ferenz likes to ask her players is: “What do you hang your hat on?” In my four years as a women’s basketball player, I never answered that question for myself until now. My team is having one of the most successful seasons of any team in Whitman College history. We are currently 26-1, the Northwest Conference regular season champions and poised to make our second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Many people ask what our secret to success is. Though it is easy to credit our success to individual players, such as the all-around talent of NWC Player of the Year junior Heather Johns or the defensive skills of senior Meghan White, I would only be glossing over the surface. The reason for our success? I believe that we are great players, but we are even better teammates––and yes, there is a difference. It is impossible not to talk about the skills of players on a successful basketball team. Yet, what the public does not see is everything we do in preparation for a basketball game. All that anyone ever sees is the finished product. My team did not earn those wins by simply shooting baskets or playing great defense––through it all, we stayed together on and off the court.

The women’s basketball team is easily spotted by our signature neon green backpacks and the “Oooo Oooo!” call we make whenever we see another member of the team. There is no denying we are close. In my 13 years as a basketball player, I haven’t played on another team as close as this one. Our sense of togetherness carried us through a 25-0 regular season and a trip to the NWC championship game, and it is what will carry us through the NCAA tournament––hopefully ending with a national title.

I always believe that a true reflection of a team’s character is not how they do in times of success, but in times of struggle. The NWC championship was the first time all season we encountered any sort of major obstacle. Coming in as a first-year almost four years ago, I made a pact with current seniors White, Sarah Anderegg and Tiffani Traver that one day we would cut down the net and hang a banner in George Ball court after winning a NWC championship. We had our chance, we were so close, but unfortunately it did not work in our favor. However, we never lost hope, even when we were down by two with 1.6 seconds left on the clock. After the game, our team captains Traver and White brought us together in the locker room and told us that although the loss obviously stings, it is more of a learning experience than anything. There is definitely much more basketball to play––winning six games in a row, in fact, would give us the national championship title. 

As a first-year, I came into this program not knowing that I would eventually end my career as a part of history. Though I have no individual accolades or records broken to show for it, that is not what matters. Success is better spent in the company of others. Now, after four years, I finally found an answer to Ferenz’s question: “What do you hang your hat on?” My teammates and I hang our hats on being a family. The women’s basketball program succeeds and struggles together on and off the court. Now, at the eve of my final appearance at the NCAA tournament, which will be hosted at Whitman College for the first time in school history, I am reassured that I am right where I need to be––in companionship with coaches and teammates who I call family.