Friday, March 26, 2010

Team of Destiny

Emporia State captured the Division II women's basketball national championship tonight, 65-53. Less than 48 hours ago, Emporia trailed Gannon by what seemed an insurmountable 18 points with 8 1/2 minutes to play in the Final Four before rallying to win in OT. Makes you even more convinced that GU could (and should) be holding the championship trophy over their heads right now, celebrating a perfect 39-0 season, huh?

So the Lady Knights must feel even worse right now about their season's dreams being dashed. Actually that's not the case from what I've been told. The Gannon team actually feels fortunate they headed home prior to tonight's championship. Here's the story I've been told behind that claim. I don't have all the details confirmed, but I think the gist of the story is really what counts:

Carrie Nolan's grandfather, Jerry Lojak, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer about a year ago. Ordinary grandfathers see their athlete grandkids at home games and maybe travel across town once in a while. Carrie's grandfather was extraordinary. Not only did he watch every one of her sporting events -- home, road, near, far -- but more importantly he served as an influential father figure.

Cancer had begun to seize more control of him recently, and though his heart was willing, his body was not able enough for him to attend the Atlantic Regional tournament at Gannon. Can you imagine? You follow your beloved granddaughter's career from crack-of-dawn mini-league on Saturday mornings to East Nowhere, Michigan for AAU tournaments yet you can't make the 12-mile trip from Pleasant Ridge Manor in Girard to watch the biggest games of her career.

As we all know, the Lady Knights won regionals, earning the Elite 8 bid where they rallied past Tusculum, 70-66, in the national quarterfinals Tuesday. Nolan hit one of the game's biggest shots, a backbreaking, no hesitation three-pointer with 1:49 to go to give GU a 5-point lead. After their stunning loss late Wednesday night, Gannon headed back to Erie from St. Joseph, Missouri, scheduled to return to campus mid-afternoon on Thursday. Carrie's plan was to drive immediately to Pleasant Ridge to see her grandfather.

But on the bus ride back, Carrie got word that her grandfather's condition was worsening; she might not see him if she made the trip to Gannon and then drove to Girard. So Lady Knight coach Cleve Wright directed the bus driver to take the Route 98 Fairview exit instead of I-79 and drive directly to Pleasant Ridge so a tearful Carrie could say her final goodbyes.

As the somber team headed down Route 98, the bus slowed. Then it broke down. Frantic phone calls were made trying to get Carrie a ride to the nursing home which was now just a couple miles away. A family friend raced to the disabled bus to rescue Carrie. But she wasn't going alone. Some teammates insisted they accompany her to the nursing home.

When Carrie finally arrived at Pleasant Ridge, her grandfather was fading fast but still conscious. They got to talk. I imagine basketball was mentioned once or twice. About a half hour after Carrie's arrival, final goodbyes were exchanged, and her grandfather passed away.

Had the Lady Knights won their Final Four game, had they held onto that 18-point lead, Carrie wouldn't have been at her grandfather's side when he passed away. I'm told that afterward Carrie and some Gannon teammates reflected on the situation. Between the choice of a national championship or a chance for Carrie to hug her grandfather one last time, they picked the latter. Unanimously.

Gannon lost that Final Four game by 3, 97-94, in overtime. On a well-designed final play, Nolan had an open right-wing three, a shot she's made hundreds of times throughout her career. But this one was short, drawing only iron as the buzzer sounded. Maybe the shot missed because her elbow wasn't tucked in enough or because she didn't bend her knees enough. Or maybe it missed because she was being called to do something more important.


  1. Jim I have to say that may be the best article you've ever written on this site as well as the best article I may have ever read!!!

    To add to it, I have a quote from a Womens basketball player that I was talking to earlier today...

    "two losses in a matter of less than a day; it's hard to take. But the one loss we can all get over and fairly quickly. The other loss is one that will take a long time to deal with; if were even able to at all."

    Now THAT is a winning team sounds and looks like.

  2. jim- did you read my comments to carrie on facebook? i literally told her the same exact thing yesterday.

    in the press conference on wednesday night carrie herself said that obviously her shot was not meant to be. there really was a reason for the team to come home so soon.

    now, i'll dry my eyes from this article and start my day.

  3. Wow ... pretty amazing. Perhaps it was meant to be this way. And that final play was as well-designed of a play like that that I've ever seen. A wide open three in 4.4 seconds.

    BTW ... IUP men lose to CP-Pomona. Quite impressive that of the eight teams to make the men's and women's final four, two are from the PSAC West.

  4. This article was very touching for me to read. Carrie is blessed to have such a close team, or what I like to call family. As a former basketball player(and also former opponent of Carrie's), I know that my team WAS my extended family and we all looked out for each other. The support of Carrie's teammates and coaches helped to reveal that college athletics are not just about winning; but also about growing, supporting and learning from one another through thick and thin.

    I truly am proud to say that I am a student at Gannon. Thank you, Lady Knights for representing not only Gannon, but also the Erie community so well.


  5. I just have to say I'm quite disappointed that the Gannon women finished second in the country in the final poll of the season.

    I understand Emporia won the national championship, but I do not believe that elevates them to the top of the charts from their previous ranking of 15th. If they had been somewhere between 2nd and 5th, maybe even 6th or 7th.. then yes. But not 15th. If Butler men win the NCAA D1 National Championship, I highly doubt they will be #1 in the country in the final poll.

    Just because you win a championship does not mean you are "the #1 team". It means for that span of time you were the best team in the country (more exactly for that one night at that one time). Polls are based on the the entire season. Gannon (or to show less bias, Franklin Pierce or Fort Lewis) were the #1 team(s) in the country for the whole season.

    Now if others feel differently, I respect that, I am just simply voicing my POV and not trying to start any arguments. However, I would like to propose this. Salem International finishes 0-27, but since their league takes EVERYONE in the conference, they make the postseason. They end up winning the conference, getting the automatic big to their regional. They then go on to win their regional advancing to the Elite 8. They then go on to win a national championship. This would be a matter of what?.. 9 to 11 wins in a row? Very impressive! So they finish the season, we'll say, 11-27 winning the national championship. They deserve to be #1 in the country in the final poll?

  6. Can't agree cc3. The national champion needs to #1 in the final poll, no matter the circumstance or the record. Period. They won the championship. If GU was the champion with the 7-loss season, we'd expect them to be #1, wouldn't we?

    The records of teams in D-II isn't a true indicator of what team is the best. Unlike D-I, teams play very few games outside their regions, which can lead to a dominant team in a weak region. Some leagues and regions are more balanced, have more good teams, leading to more losses for more of those teams. Some teams have injuries during the course of the season, which can lead to losses.

    Watching most of the games in St. Joseph on TV and the Internet, I can offer Franklin Pierce as an example. They only suffered what, one loss during the regular season and waltzed through their regional, but they were less than impressive in getting whipped by Ft. Lewis, a team that got beat convincingly in the final game. Their record was outstanding, but their league and region probably weren't that strong. Hard to say if that was also true of the Atlantic Region.

    No, as much as we'd like to see it differently, Emporia St. won the final game, and they are rightfully #1.

  7. I can totally agree with your reasons, however, if that's what they are looking at, then the final poll should have been as such...

    1) Emporia State
    2) Fort Lewis
    3) Gannon
    4) Franklin Pierce

    In the order that they actually finished. That would at least be reasonable.

    Also, Cal Poly Pomona won the Men's D2 Championship and in the paper Wednesday it said they finished at #18 in the country. They entered tournament play not ranked in the Top 25 receiving only 3 votes. Arkansas Tech was voted first in the final poll and didn't even make the Elite 8, but finished with only 2 losses.

    1. Arkansas Tech
    2. IUP
    3. Valdosta State
    4. Central Missouri
    5. Augusta State

  8. Again, I disagree, at least on the Womens' side. Other than the team that wins it all, the voters should be thinking, "Who played the best game against the champion?" and that clearly was GU. Therefore, voting GU # 2 makes sense.

    The only sure thing should be that the team that wins the championship should be #1. After that, it becomes subjective again, and I'm sure any of the voters could make a case for the way they voted (often with a big regional bias), even as flawed as their logic may or may not be.

    If what you posted regarding the Men's poll is true, I have no explanation, but, IMO, it's absurd that the champion isn't even in the top 5.

    Remember, like you, I am expressing my opinion as to how I think the voting should be done. There aren't really any rules for how the polls work.

  9. Oh I know... I just dont agree with the you win the title you're #1. Especially when you started 15th. But at least they were in the top 25 to begin with whereas Cal Poly Pomona wasn't even ranked going into their conference tourney (and according to the poll legend they would've been about 37th).

    It's just wacky. But, in my opinion, they shouldn't even do a poll after the tournament. The final poll should be before the conference tournament (or even after that and before Regional) and then after the Big Dance is over, all that matters... who won that National Championship.

  10. I can't find the D-II final poll.

    However, the national champion should be #1 in the final rankings. Yes, if the Salem Int'l women had run the table in the WVIAC and the NCAA tournament, they deserve to be #1. YOu have to be good to do that.

    Emporia should be #1. I can see voting GU #2, however. Only the bracketing prevented GU from being in the NC game. They would have beaten FLSU or FPU.

    I remember how Patrick Ewing was waving his index finger after losing to Villanova after the 1985 championship game. "We're still number one, he said."

    Is Kansas still number one? If Butler had won, should they have been number one?

  11. golden- here is the link

    cc3- i agree that i was a bit upset when i saw the poll. yes, gannon did end the season 37-1 and emporia got those last two wins that earned them the #1 spot. unfortunately, they really did deserve it. they played the better game. and golden is right, its all because of the bracketing. it happens.

  12. Has anyone heard any recruiting updates?

  13. I've not heard anything and the PSAC site only has Andrew Rickard listed under Men's Basketball recruits (for Mercyhurst). There's several under Women's Basketball, but only 2 for Gannon.

    *Jennifer Papich | Indianola, PA
    *Kelley Sundberg | Mansfield, CT

    For info on them both, go to this site

  14. Also, Jennifer Papich made PIAA AAAA Second Team All-State (as listed in the paper today).

    P.S.- Jim, how the heck is it possible that it can sometime take me 4-5 tries to get the usually unreadable "captcha", yet these spammers are posting so easily?! haha :) *user error*

  15. I believe Kelly Sundberg of E O Smith HS is one of the top 5 players on Conn. With UConn having the cream of the crop (of course), Cleve may have stole one from Franklin Pierce.