Walking Tall

Women's Basketball vs. Whitworth
The team motto for the Lady Missionaries’ 2012-13 season was “Find a way.” And they found their way to the Elite 8. It’s the furthest any Whitman team has gone in a national competition.

The women’s basketball team finished the 2012-13 season 23-6, compiling the most wins in the program’s history. The Lady Missionaries also made it all the way to the NCAA Elite 8, before Williams College defeated Whitman 63-53 in what the team considered a “valiant way to lose.”

“You learn more from losing than you do winning,” said Sarah Anderegg ’14, who scored 18 points and pulled down six rebounds in the 63-53 loss to Williams.

Sitting around a table with her teammates, Anderegg reflected on the perspective losing brings.

“In the bigger picture, every team aspires to win the championship. Only one team does. But from losing, we appreciate more the memories that we made. The season ended on a bad note, but there was nothing bad about the season,” said the 6-foot-2 post player, who, after her standout season, was named to the First Team All-NWC.

“When I look back I won’t remember losing. I will remember all the things that got us to the Elite 8.”

The 2012-13 season was the Lady Missionaries’ most successful ever. The team made its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. It finished second in the NWC, tallied the most wins (23) and went further than any Whitman team before it. Whitman wrapped the season ranked 11th in the D3Hoops.com poll and 22nd in the NCAA rankings.

Not bad for a group of players who were picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the NWC and who weren’t expected to win even one game in the tournament.

“We were underdogs all season long,” said guard Tiffani Traver ’14. “We were picked 63rd out of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament. Nobody expected we could win. But we knew we could. We knew how good we were.”

What was the key to their success? Aside from always going all out, as team captain Mary Madden ’13 said, the players all agreed they were successful because they enjoyed themselves.

Heather Johns '15
Heather Johns ’15 drives against a Whitworth defender in the NWC semi-final game Feb. 21, 2013. The Lady Missionaries lost 55-54, but they received an at-large bid from the selection committee, which advanced them to the national tourney. They then finished among the top eight teams among a field of 64 teams.

“We all had fun during the season. Everything followed after that,” said guard Marah Alindogan ’14. “I enjoyed going to practice. Loved hanging out with my teammates. Usually when you spend so much time with people you get sick of them. But I didn’t feel that way about my teammates. We hung out as much as possible.”

It was this team chemistry that made the loss to Williams so bitter.

“We were all heartbroken. The hardest part was that our season was over, and this team was such a family, so it was so sad to know that we couldn’t play with all these teammates again,” said guard Heather Johns ’15, who made Second Team All-NWC.

The teammates spent their ride home mitigating the pain brought by their family’s breakup. Because the entire team couldn’t fit on one commercial flight due to scheduling and the New England winter weather, the NCAA hired a private jet for them. Traveling home together served as the perfect tonic to the season-ending defeat.

Flying onboard a private jet also made the teammates feel as if they were “living the life.” To this day, they still marvel about how much legroom they had.

“We got a private jet! Thank you NCAA,” said Madden, obviously still fancying the memory.

When the jet touched down, scores of students, faculty members, staff members and community members greeted them at the Walla Walla airport.

“They were there cheering for us and holding up signs,” said post player Meghan White ’14. “It was incredible support. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. It shows the difference our little team can make. Not just across the country, but in our community.”

The adventurous ride this “little team” went on this season has made a difference in the life of each player. The Lady Missionaries said the lessons they learned, despite coming up short of the championship, will stick with them throughout college and when they step out into the working world.

“Do not settle for your comfort zone,” Alindogan said. “You can always surprise yourself with what you can accomplish if you push yourself to the limits.”

Post-season honors

  • Sarah Anderegg ’14 was First Team All-Northwest Conference (NWC).
  • Heather Johns ’15 was Second Team All-NWC.
  • Meghan White ’14 was Honorable Mention All-NWC.
  • Michelle Ferenz was Coach of the Year in the NWC.

Alindogan and her teammates, having tasted what it was like to compete in the tournament, from the luxurious travel, media attention and playing in stellar gyms, want to return to the NCAA tournament.

This year’s team motto was “Find a way.” The remaining players have already started setting goals for next season.

“Our last game against Williams was on their home court. We were down by 20 going into the second half. We came back and lost by [10]. It was a valiant way to lose. If I were to lose, I can’t imagine a better way. Everything was left on the floor,” said White.

“It was the end of the journey, but it was also the beginning of the hunger for us to get back.”