Rings reminder of more than title
Saturday, December 08, 2012 6:57 PM
We look for ties that bind us.
Some kind of connection, you know, that helps us remember why we're here.
The 2011-12 Lander University women's basketball team - at first glance - has an obvious bond in its NCAA Division II Southeast Regional championship rings, which were presented Saturday.
The rings symbolize the program's first trip to the Elite Eight in San Antonio. They also represent a 24-8 record and stirring run to the regional title when it seemed - near the end of the regular season, anyway - the team was going to be lucky to win a first-round regional game.
But the Bearcats regrouped, won the regional title in double overtime and took the program to a level it had never been before. Although Lander lost in the first round of the Elite Eight against Rollins, that was not on the mind of anyone wearing an Elite Eight ring Saturday.
It was not on anyone's mind as the members posed for pictures with their fists outward showing their new bling. And it was the furthest thing from anyone's mind when last year's team - which had eight seniors - formed one final huddle.
"I ain't going to say I was about to tear up, but it felt a little emotional to do the huddle one more time," said Brittni Johnson, one of last season's seniors who was also named the Southeast Regional tournament MVP. "It felt like we had beaten someone's butt like we used to."
With a freshman-laden roster this season, the Bearcats have hardly shown that kind of form. Saturday's 58-53 loss against Augusta State dropped the 2012-13 team's record to 1-4.
But it took near-misses and heartbreak to make last season's triumph all the more worthwhile. Remember, Lander lost in the 2010 and '11 regional finals before breaking through in '12.
Does finally accomplishing something after coming so close in the past make it more special? Just ask this season's Greenwood High School football team which won state after losing in the two previous finals.
Through the heartbreak from losing against Tusculum in the 2010 final and Clayton State in '11, the group strengthened its will not to let something like that happen again.
And through those experiences, the bond is more important than the ring.
"This ring can be replaced," Johnson said. "I don't know how hard it would be to replace it. But if something happened to my teammate, she can't be replaced. I'd rather have my teammates any day over this ring."
Johnson's not alone in that sentiment.
"We're going to be friends for years to come," said another one of last season's seniors, Rachelle Rasley. "The ring symbolizes us coming together as a group and a team, accomplishing our one common goal."
For Lander coach Kevin Pederson, who is trying to build his current team into the form last year's squad had, he will not only have his ring. He will have the memories that go along with it.
"When you win a championship, you're tied together forever," Pederson said. "And that's something we preached for four years working with that team. Twenty-eight years from now, they will come back and still celebrate that championship."
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY . Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.