COVID-19 cuts women’s varsity basketball season short

Tate Cadang, Sports Reporter

The Whitman College women’s basketball team fought through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and made their way into the Sweet Sixteens.

In round two of the NCAA tournament, the Blues beat the No. 5 team in the nation — Wartburg College — and moved onto the national tournament. 

Senior Makana Stone highlighted the team’s success leading up to the Sweet Sixteens.

“To talk about the season so far is to cover a lot of ups and downs for us, but mainly ups,” Stone said.

Senior Lily Gustafson credits the bond among players that often goes unsung as one of their keys to success.

“We all love each other, and you can feel that on the court,” Gustafson said. “We beat the fifth ranked team at home without Makana, because we believed in who we are as a team.”

Stone was out for an injury during the game against Wartburg and came to understand the team’s dynamics from a different point of view. As a key player on the court, she adjusted her role to that of a leader from the sidelines, finding new ways to support the team.

“I needed to do everything that I could do to support the team, and being on the team in a different role and learning how to do that from the bench is definitely different for me,” Stone said. “I’m definitely one of the more vocal leaders on the team. There’s that energy that I need to bring regardless of where I’m at.”

In high spirits from their latest win, the Blues stepped into Sweet Sixteen week with tension and expectations rising with news of their success.

“Going into the tournament, we know we were playing for our lives,” Gustafson said. “I knew we were really good, and I just wanted to make the most of our potential as a team.”

If they wanted to be this season’s national champions, the team needed to showcase their talent and grit as they neared the season’s close.

“We set a lot of goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season, and especially being where we are right now, it’s cool to look back and say we’re slowly reaching them,” Stone said.

The team’s excitement and determination to take on the Sweet Sixteen followed them to Maine, where they were supposed to have played Oglethorpe University. However, their season took a turn for the unexpected.

The 2019-2020 season for the Blues suddenly ended when COVID-19 became a threat to the players’ health and ended the team’s season the day before their Sweet Sixteen match. The team was forced to come to the realization that their triumph over Wartburg had been the last game of the season and for seniors, the last game of their collegiate career.

Senior Katie Stahl described the difficulty of not being able to experience what could have possibly been one of the greatest seasons the Blues have ever seen.

“It was heartbreaking to find out our season was cut short,” Stahl said. “It’s just difficult not having closure on the season and thinking about what could have been.”

Gustafson shared similar sentiments about the team’s sudden end, expressing what the team could have gone on to accomplish.

“Part of the reason this hurt so much is that we were left with a big ‘what if,’” Gustafson said. “The feeling among me and the teammates is that we could have made it to the final four, and possibly further.”

Although the news devastated the team and their supporters, Stahl encourages the underclassmen to carry on with the hard work.

“I hope the underclassmen push through the highs and the lows of their career, and don’t give up,” Stahl said. “Along with all of the hard work, some of the best parts of college athletics cannot be marked by the wins and losses.”

Despite the uncertainty and disappointment that the Blues have faced this season, there is hope that they will come back next season with even greater motivation to play hard.