On March 12th the Lander Bearcats defeated Wingate in a double overtime thriller that clinched their first ever NCAA Southest Region Championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas. Senior Rachelle Rasley has graciously volunteered to blog about their experience on the road to the Elite Eight.
There were moments in the region final game that I thought my collegiate career was over. Wingate would not seem to go down without a fight. The game was going point for point in the double overtime competition. Finally, Brittni Johnson, one of our 8 seniors on our measly 9 player roster, sunk the game winning three followed by a pair of free-throws from Jasmine Judge to seal the deal . Words cannot describe how I felt. I probably busted a blood vessel in my neck from screaming so much; we were region champs and heading to the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas. Never have I ever been this far in competition in my college career. I came to Lander from Division I North Florida and we fell just short of the NCAA tournament and a chance to play UConn in a heartbreaking loss, but to say I have the opportunity to play for a national championship eclipses everything else.
The morning of the flight to San Antonio the girls were a little nervous. Needless to say this was the first time some of them had been on a plane. Upon reaching San Antonio, we were excited to find out we were staying at this amazing Hyatt hotel. We were within walking distance of the Alamo and the mall so it was a win-win situation for everyone. After sightseeing and a little bit of shopping it was back to business. We went to an elementary school down in the inner city and were able to talk to the kids about the importance of the state test they were taking the next week. It was such a great experience to go up and speak in front of these children as this will be something they remember for a long time. After that we headed to St. Mary’s University for our 55 minutes of practice time that we are allowed. We went extremely hard. Coach wanted to send a message to us, not the people that were watching the open practice, that we came here for a reason. We meant business. I overheard a couple NCAA representatives saying no one practice harder than us that day. That’s what we were going for because as it is said “failing to prepare is like preparing to fail.”
Later that night we attended the NCAA Elite Eight banquet at Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. It was a beautiful place but we laughed as we found out that we were only given two tables to fit everyone on our team while every other team had three or four. This didn’t surprise us though. Also the fact that Lander only had four clips on the highlight reel while the other teams had numerous didn’t surprise us either. To top it off, we were told to wear our travel warm-ups and when we got there, everyone else was completely dressed up. We didn’t care however, we wore our warm-ups with pride and squeezing our nine players at one table and all dressed alike made us look even more like a team.
Coach had also stressed the word “sacrifice” all season. What were we going to sacrifice to win. We all gave up our phones as sacrifice and haven’t had them for practically two weeks now. Sitting around the table together and talking made a huge difference. All the other teams at their tables were engulfed in their phones texting and listening to music during the banquet. The togetherness we developed brought us to call ourselves, jokingly, the “wolf pack”. Our small team with only nine players is going to stay together as a wolf pack and accomplish something no one thought we could. The first game is against Rollins College and this wolf pack is going to do everything in its power to make it to the Final Four. People shouldn’t doubt teams that come out of the Peach Belt Conference because we come to play!