A fitting ending

By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — I know I wrote at-length last week about the NCCAA basketball tournaments making their final passes through Grace College and Winona Lake.

I try not to write about the same subject two weeks in a row, but there are a few things you need to know about in the aftermath of last. First, it was suggested before the tip off of the first game on Wednesday what a poetic ending to Grace’s duties of hosting over the last 15 years it would be if the Lady Lancers could win the national championship.

Everyone agreed, but I doubt too many really thought it could actually happen.

One problem: in the previous 14 years, they’d never even made it to the championship game, let alone won it.

Grace was the 4-seed in an 8-team tournament in a year that wasn’t their best in recent history. As a matter of fact, there was much more optimism about Grace’s chances last year when they won a school-record 24 games, a school record 13 Crossroads League games and their first NAIA national tournament game, and then came home to be in the NCCAA tournament.

And they looked the part, winning their quarterfinal game and leading deep into the fourth quarter in the semis before losing and ultimately finishing third.

Graduations and transfers hit the program hard, and their record this season showed it.

They finished the regular season 14-14 and 9-9 in the league. They lost in the first round of the CL tournament and then faced the daunting task of hosting the NCCAA championship where they would play three games over three or four days after not playing (literally) for a month.

They had lost 7 of their last 10 games, and they had very little in the way of momentum after their last road trip of the season.

But at the shoot-around last Tuesday, the players and coaches all felt like the pre-tournament practices were really good and the team was very focused.

Man, did they play like it.

They posted a solid win over the 5-seed Southwestern Christian Wednesday, then knocked off the top seed from Oakland City in southern Indiana on a buzzer beater by former Lady Tiger Kenzie Ryman that made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 list that night.

In front of a huge crowd on Saturday at the MOCC, in their first ever championship game, they finished the job.

They had crowned so many others, and it was finally their turn to wear it for themselves.
Maddie Ryman, a senior and the all-time leading scorer and assister in school history, earned another honor at Tuesday’s pre-tournament banquet. She was named the winner of the Kathy Freeze-Peabody Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in NCCAA Division I women’s basketball.

Athletic Director Chad Briscoe, who has devoted a good chunk of his life to hosting and running these tournaments simultaneously for 12 years and the women’s for three years before that received an award for his years of service.

Briscoe had just honored an incredible list of people who had been part of the crew who had worked the tournaments for most of or all of the run.

And then Briscoe had a message for those in attendance at the banquet: “if it’s only about the basketball this week, you’re missing the whole point.”

The teams had visited elementary schools, nursing homes and other Kosciusko County non-profit organizations to help out as part of their service projects earlier in the day.

His point was that the impact they’d had on the people they’d come in contact with earlier in the day and the long-term ramifications of that time would outlast what place they finished in the tournament on Friday and Saturday.

It was a powerful message, and it was received.

How do I know? Because the men’s team that visited my son’s school Tuesday made it to the championship game Saturday. He made a sign and sat in the front row across from their bench. Coming out of the locker room each and every member of the Wayland Baptist Pioneers from Plainview, Texas went out of their way to come over and thank him for coming to cheer for them.

My boy will never forget that.

I hope those players will not forget the power and the memories they created here.

I know for a fact that the NCCAA knows what kind of impact they had here, and I hope that everyone at Grace College and in the towns of Warsaw and Winona Lake realize the positive impression they made on the thousands of visitors who came to our community over the last 15 years through this tournament.

If this was when it had to end, then it feels like the perfect ending.