Bowdoin's women's basketball team made history this year when they capped a perfect season with an appearance in the NCAA Division III Championships. Morrell Gym was filled to capacity and beyond for their hotly-contested playoff game against University of Southern Maine, and the games against Scranton and Wisconsin-Stevens Point that followed were vivid testimony to the strengths of a talented, spirited, and well-coached squad. In the final game, Bowdoin may have fallen to Wilmington College of Ohio, but, as Division III basketball watcher Mark Simon wrote in his column, they never stopped showing us what really counted.
Reprinted with the permission of D3hoops.com, www.d3hoops.com.
This season was perfect in so many ways for Bowdoin that the tears and hugs after the game weren't so much for sadness at defeat as they were at the thought of not being able to continue the season.
The Bowdoin student-athletes and coaching staff are a unique group of people. You don't usually run into coaches who let their team sort out their own on-court problems without timeouts, use words like "fulfilling" to describe wins, or who take their teams on field trips to historical sites on the way to playing the biggest games of their lives, but that's how head coach Stefanie Pemper runs her team, and it's a method that works as well as any we've seen.
It's March Madness time and when you're in the industry we are, you get to talk to a lot of college basketball personalities at all levels. You don't talk to many Division I players who perform in operas or theatrical productions on off-days from games. You don't come across many programs at a school that prides itself on being Ivy-equivalent, where the majors of student athletes are subjects like government and anthropology.
I'm sure that there are other programs of a similar nature at the Division III level, but this one happened to be the one in our spotlight this season. It was a treat to broadcast the the NESCAC title game, the classic sectional semifinals matchup with Southern Maine and the two games at the Final Four. It was fun to watch them play and talk to people with such a fresh perspective on the game we cover.
"This (losing in the national championship game) is not the defining moment in their lives,'' we overheard Bowdoin athletic director Jeffrey Ward say moments before the team's championship-game postgame press conference. "We have some young women who are going to do some pretty amazing things.''
The Polar Bears did a pretty amazing thing this season, taking an undefeated record down to the final day and the final minutes of their game with Wilmington. They won with smart play, team defense, and energy bursts, all of which combined to form a near-perfect combination. Bowdoin won games by making big plays under pressure, and saw another team in Wilmington that could do that equally well- or on this occasion, just a little bit better.
Teams like Wilmington fully deserve to be recognized for their championship runs, but teams like Bowdoin deserve recognition as well. We're not surprised that Pemper's eyes started to well up as she described how she would want her squad remembered.
"As a team that got the most of its ability,'' Pemper said after thinking for a few moments. "As a team that had great leadership. As a team with a fantastic senior class that led by example. As people who came in and grew as individuals. People have said to me that you could write a book about this team, and it's true... You could write chapters on so many people.''
"We're not necessarily the most talented team on the floor,'' Pemper said, returning to the subject a few questions later. "But our kids do other things to make up for it that
are super special.''
Bowdoin entered the NCAA Tournament as the unbeaten favorites, a new position and a new challenge for many of the members of its squad. They handled the imperfection of their final moments equally well.
"We're not ashamed of losing,'' said senior co-captain Lora Trenkle. "We didn't feel any pressure. We played like we had nothing to lose.''
In a way, they didn't lose. They won respect for their program, for their players and for their college, and what better way to be remembered than that?