| Playing with Joy
FROM UNDER TOWELS, where the tears flowed unceasingly, she could
hear it: the cheers, the chants and the words of encouragement.
The heart of Kerie Hughes hung heavy with disappointment. It
was Saint Patrick’s Day and, with a little luck, Hughes and her
Seattle Pacific teammates planned to end it by climbing a ladder
down the nets at Brougham Pavilion. They would stand undefeated
and be bound for the Elite Eight.
But it was not to be. After 29
consecutive victories, after becoming the darlings of the Puget
Sound sports scene for more than a month, and after going into
the locker room with a 10-point halftime lead in the NCAA West
Regional championship game — after all that, the Falcons suddenly
found themselves eliminated.
March Madness is exciting, even euphoric,
for those who win and move on. But the mood quickly changes for
those who do not. Sixty-four teams make the playoffs, and only
one is left standing. All it takes is one loss. One minute you’re
pumping your fists to celebrate a swished three-pointer and the
next you’re under a towel.
It was a great season of basketball
for Hughes, Coach Gordy Presnell and all those involved. They had
gone unbeaten throughout the 27-game regular season, claimed the
Great Northwest Athletic Conference crown and held the nation’s
No. 1 ranking for five consecutive weeks. Perhaps more importantly,
their superlative play had won them a growing legion of fans.
as Hughes, a senior, walked from the court one final time, she
was uplifted, albeit briefly, by chants of S-P-U, S-P-U.
a feeling in sports that rarely happens, a feeling that everyone — the
players, the fans, everyone — is united; they’re all part of it,” says
Presnell. “The community support was awesome.”
“People came to me
with tears in their eyes, saying they felt so sad for us,” remembers
Hughes. “It was good to hear that, and it had showed during the
game. They were so loud, so supportive.”
From the day that Seattle
Pacific first reached the No. 1 ranking, interest intensified.
Reporters and camera crews greeted the players’ arrival at practice.
Many were there when Presnell made good on promise and allowed
his head to be shaved by 14 young women bearing shears. In the
final nine home dates, the Falcons averaged more than 1,200 fans
and broke their single-game attendance record four times.
from all the records and achievements, what made this particular
SPU team so special was the joy they exhibited, both on and off
the hardwood. Presnell says his program, now 16 years running,
is founded on three principles: confidence, chemistry and competitiveness.
From the moment the previous season ended until the fateful 85-80
loss to fifth-ranked Cal State Bakersfield, his team was a model
of commitment to those qualities.
We wanted to be the best,” Presnell says. “We played with a great
deal of confidence (beating six nationally ranked teams along the
way), and everybody got along
and was unselfish. Everything was fulfilled.” Hughes; fellow seniors Stephanie
Urrutia, Kelley Berglund and Stacie Lukkes; and fourth-year junior Kristin Poe
had all stepped forward to fill key leadership roles. They invested themselves
in achieving something special, and the rest of the team believed in their ideals
and the possibilities.
Everyone played a role. Eleven players saw regular action,
including three freshmen. Eight different women led the team in scoring throughout
the year, and Berglund, the overall top scorer, averaged a modest 14.7 points.
Individually, the statistics may not have been impressive. Collectively, SPU
overpowered opponents, winning games by an average of 22 points.
vision was always out in front,” Hughes said. Although Hughes was voted the GNAC
Player of the Year and both she and Berglund were honorable mention All-America,
the team’s dream was always bigger than any one player.
Hughes and Urrutia arrived
for their final game weakened by flu-like symptoms and visibly pale. Adrenaline
carried them early, but Hughes said fatigue took hold in the end. Still, she
and her fellow teammates remained true to themselves.
“In the locker room afterward,
everyone was blubbering. But instead of fingerpointing, we were all taking
the blame. We were accountable to each other, and it epitomized what we were
all about this year.”
— BY FRANK MACDONALD
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From the President
Cultivating hope in the face of chaos is vital today. "This is the time
for a Christian university to dig down deep into its formative foundations … and
decide quite clearly what bread we have to offer,” says President Philip
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