Tonight the Ashland Eagles play in their second consecutive National Championship game, looking for a different result than their overtime loss last year to Shaw. They’ve been on a 365-day journey, with the singular goal of winning it all this year.
Led by two-time national player of the year, Kari Daugherty, the Eagles are hardly a one-woman show. Kari’s work ethic, determination and intensity have heightened the level of play of each teammate, resulting in one of the greatest examples of competitive greatness I’ve ever witnessed.
Coach Wooden defined competitive greatness as “Being your best when your best is needed. Enjoyment of a difficult challenge.” Time and time again this season, different Eagles stepped up to contribute key plays just at the right time. One of my favorite examples was in the national semifinal game vs. Western Washington.
With Ashland hanging onto a 39-35 lead with 11:39 left to go, Ashley Dorner entered the game. Formerly a starter and key contributor to last year’s success, Ashley has battled knee injuries all season and has seen limited playing time. The heart and soul of the team, Ashley came off the bench to make 3-of-4 field goals and grab 3 boards in 7 minutes.
As important as those points and rebounds were, even more crucial was the emotional lift Ashley gave the team (the photo above shows the bench’s response to one of her baskets). At a Western Washington timeout in the midst of the Ashland run, she was all but mugged by her teammates with high fives, hugs and cheers. Her performance sparked the energy boost they needed at just the right time. She left the game with the Eagles leading 51-40.
Ashley was her best when her best was needed. She could have responded to her different role this year with jealousy or frustration. But she didn’t. She prepared herself for the moment when her team needed her and she delivered!
I’m so proud to know these young women and to watch how they selflessly put the good of the team ahead of their desire for personal success. Whether they win a National Championship or not, this team has achieved competitive greatness, the top block in Coach Wooden’s pyramid of success and one of the rarest accomplishments of all!