Before the NCAA tournament tips off this weekend and we get caught up in the joy that accompanies victory and the disappointment that assuredly follows defeat, please take five minutes to read and reflect on the blog post below. It's been four years since I wrote this, and I still consider it one of the greatest stories I've ever had the privilege to share.
Team Of Destiny
March 26, 2010 -- 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?
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.