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It's a marathon, not a sprint, except for the lacrosse team

What's it like on America's biggest stage? - ask Presbyterian College Women's Basketball;


Watching the lacrosse team sprint will be another memory for the Big South Women’s Basketball Tournament Champions and National Tournament game winner, the Presbyterian College Blue Hose.

The team was welcomed back last Saturday from Columbia, where they went 1-1 in the First Four and First Round of the NCAA Division I Tournament.

“Coming back I was super excited to see what we could do,” said 6th year player Bryanna Brady. “We had one goal in mind and we achieved it, and I appreciate that all you guys were there to see it.”

Blue Hose Nation turned out in force for the team’s 49-42 First Four win over Sacred Heart, from Connecticut. The Nation went again to Colonial Life Arena two days later, but was outmanned by the massive fan support for the No. 1 team in the nation and top tournament seed, the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks. USC Women’s Head Coach Dawn Staley visited with the Blue Hose prior to the game - which represented the first-ever trip by a PC team to the NCAA tournament known worldwide as March Madness.

“We made a million memories,” said PC Women’s Head Coach Alaura Sharp, “and another memory that’s going to go down is pulling up and seeing the lacrosse team - that’s part of their conditioning - seeing them sprint over to meet us. That will go down as one of my favorite memories, that’s awesome.

“Thanks to everyone who has worked behind the scenes to make this the most awesome memory of our sports career. Thank you so much, and Go Blue Hose!”

“I am speaking for the entire community when I say how proud we are of this team, these women, and these women and men who are coaching them and especially to Alaura,” said PC President Dr. Anita Gustafson. “Last night, I was with a number of donors to Presbyterian College. They were so excited about the accomplishments of this team. There is a national conversation going on about the Blue Hose - part of it is what is a Blue Hose? So after we get that solved, they start talking about the academics, the character, and the hard work and all that this team has gone through to get to this point. You are the first (basketball) team to win the Big South, to win a game in the March Madness tournament so we are so proud of all of you.”

Before they got back on the bus to unload their stuff at the rear of Templeton Center, the players and coaches were serenaded by the crowd with the PC fight song. 

Note: Women’s Final Four - NC State v South Carolina, April 5; 2nd game - Iowa v UConn, April 5.

To feed the national, even international, media monster attached to the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament (and the men’s, too), coaches and some student-athletes have to spend considerable time in front of microphones.

Sometimes, they give the media the standard team line. Sometimes, they talk about their deceased parents, and their inspiration. Sometimes, like with Utah’s women’s coach, they make serious news, saying the team had to change hotels in Idaho (playing in Spokane) because of racist language.

The Presbyterian College women’s basketball team was caught up in that maelstrom as it made its debut in the national tournament. And even when the team came back home, finally done, Head Coach Alaura Sharp had to stand for one last local TV interview.

“I’m tired of myself,” she quipped about the media exposure - in the case of the top-rated teams, over-exposure is a more appropriate term.

Here are some takeaways from the First Four debut, and initial game victory, of the PC Blue Hose. They had news conferences before and after the First Four game, and before and after the First Round game.

Sharp, arriving in Columbia: Those of you that have followed us know that we had a bumpy up and down season. Some of you probably saw us play in early December down here. We just grew and grew and bonded together as a coaching staff and as a team. Because of that we are Dancing and we’re thrilled to be doing it for the very first time. As you know, there is only one first time to do a first thing, and we’re excited to represent the Clinton community and we feel like we have had so much love and support from alums and everybody. We’re excited to get back to work. For a week we really just did player development and kind of riding our wave. When Selection Sunday came we felt like we could put our heads down and get right back to work.

Tilda Sjokvist, winning eight of nine games since Feb. 10: We’re playing our best basketball, and we are just enjoying the time. We have a lot of seniors on our team and we’re enjoying the last couple of games with them. We have had a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity, and I just think this made us even closer and filled a bigger purpose of playing basketball. We play for those who can’t play on the court, and, yeah, we all just fight. We had one goal, and it’s been up and downs through the season, but, yeah, we wanted to win and that’s what we did.

Sharp, on playing again at the Colonial Life Arena: Well, the interesting thing about being here is everyone was asking me before we came and played the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, why are you playing that game? Why are you playing it the day after this game and this, that, and the other.

I answered at the time, because I want to prepare my team for March Madness. I thought we had a team that was more than capable to be in this type of scenario. Obviously being in the First Four game, it gives us just another chance to play on this court, play in this environment, and get our feet underneath us.

We want to survive and advance. One day at a time, one game at time, one rep at a time, one press offense at a time. We are going to see some press tomorrow. I feel like your job as the head coach is to really put your players in a position to be successful, and it’s been great just scheduling this environment and being able to play here. It worked out in our favor.

I couldn’t have dreamed it up where it would be in the exact location, but the quick turnaround, playing a high-level basketball team in a great environment was something that we have been there and done that. And kind of done it twice. We played at Kansas State in a big environment also on an awesome platform and stage, and they’re one of the top teams in the country as well. I think we’re prepared to make a run.

Bryanna Brady, after the seven point win over Sacred Heart: Just being out there and seeing all the people that came from Clinton and around wherever to come and support us, seeing all that blue in the stands, it really put a lot of love in our hearts and made us want to play harder and better and put a good product on the floor, because people came out and took their time to come watch us. At the end when we were waving to them, just showing them like we appreciate you, we see you, and we want you guys to come back. It really means a lot that they came down here today. … I was just trying to stick to my post-ups, trying to make sure that I was posting hard and giving my guards a target. I think they were running through passes, and in the beginning, in the first half, I wasn’t being as strong I should have been playing. When I got the ball I was trying to be aggressive at the rim and fake the ball and see if they’ll bite on some of those shot fakes, pass fakes, and then just being aggressive and play strong at the rim. I think that’s what got me going. And then also my teammates staying confident in me and telling me to keep going to work. I think them pushing me and my coaching staff, too, telling me I am who I am and I’m a good basketball player, so stick with it, I think that’s kind of what put a little bit more motivation and helped me find that rhythm and get back in the groove.

Mara Neira, on the First Four victory: I feel like we were really on the floor good, and then we realized that what was working was the screening game, and that’s how I got my points and it kept me going. It wasn’t a great shooting day today so we realized that -- I realized that -- so I tried to gain points off the paint and stuff like that (she led PC with 14). … (emotions) I don’t know. I never been here before. We never been in the March Madness. Winning this game, I’m still in shock. I mean, we are going to play South Carolina next game and we just made history twice. It was the first time we got all these wins. We just add another one today. I’m just excited to be here.

Sharp, on players who’ve been with her through the less-successful times:

Bry was with me, and Bry and Paige Kindseth were really with me in the trenches of the program. So I think it’s really rewarding to both of them to know where we were three years ago to where we are now. They stuck with me and kept believing in me. I think that’s ultimately why it’s so rewarding for them, is the rest of the players came when we were having winning seasons, finishing in fourth place in the conference. Bry and Paige were with us when it was really gritty and tough. So Bryanna is an amazing human, too. We tell her sometimes she should be a coach. She’s really smart and intelligent, and you can see how she delivers herself in interviews. She deserves all this just like the rest of our team.

Christina Kline, after Sacred Heart and before South Carolina: Well, I couldn’t make it off the court without my dad coming and stopping me and giving me a hug. He’s been there for AAU and every game. He just kind of told me -- he couldn’t really say it because it was so emotional, that this is probably my biggest game in my basketball career. I think that’s what kind of set the emotions after the game for me.

… I mean, as a shooter, you just try to focus, like, more on the court than what’s going on around outside. But it is definitely helping us, I think, talking to other shooters on the team. We feel more confident taking those shots yesterday than we did at South Carolina (in the previous game). Not only a different team but just feeling more comfortable because we had practiced as well, another shoot-around. So it just makes us feel more confident.

Tila Sjokvist, losing by 50 to the No. 1 team in the nation, but was it fun?: Yeah, I mean, I thought it was fun. We were hustling and everything. I mean, obviously it’s not fun to lose any time, but if we’re going to lose, we better do it to the No. 1 seed. I think a small school like ours doesn’t want to play on the big stage like this. I think I heard someone from the last game saying at least we don’t play South Carolina. I’m so grateful for the experience. We did what we have worked on and I loved the experience, playing on the big stage, that’s what every athlete want to do. Obviously the score wasn’t on our side. They are such a good team. This is an experience I’m going to bring forever in my basketball, and so grateful I got to play these two times. And in the NCAA tournament, it’s been a journey. Finishing like this, I mean, we want to be sent home against the No. 1 seed and I’m happy we did. I’m cheering for South Carolina this tournament, yeah. 

Bryanna Brady, on the team’s accomplishments this season: We definitely put PC out there, and brought a name to the things that we’ve accomplished. Making history not once, not twice, but three different times, four different times, I think that’s -- it says a lot about just our character, too. And we believe in each other. We go out there and we do what we’re supposed to do. We had the mentality of going out there and doing what got us here and showing our growth. As for PC and the school, I think it just brings the community closer together. People took the time to come out and watch us and come down the road and greet us when we came home the first time, all these things. We’re just making the community so much stronger, and I’m really, really glad to be a part of it. It means a lot. … I wouldn’t rather do it with anybody but these girls, these coaches, and everybody around me. It was definitely -- felt good to hear everybody cheering, and of course those emotions come through because it’s my last career game. But regardless of that, I wouldn’t have wanted to end it any other way.

Sharp, on a roller coaster season: Yeah, I think there were obviously some low lows and most seasons are a little bit of an up and down season. Most times you can’t get to where you want to get as a straight line. It’s always bumpy and rocky, and I think there has been times where the been frustrated with me and I’ve been frustrated with them.

But I just feel like we have these deep seated human connections with each other, and because of that, we were able to really just stick together. It’s almost like the rockier it got and the more rough it got the better we got.

The thing about it is I worked for Joye Lee-McNelis, the head coach at University of Southern Mississippi and everybody knows she’s battling cancer. In our Pete game we did a McNelis strong game, and I FaceTimed her after we won the championship game. She gave me the chance at the Division I level. I had applied for a million jobs and she took a chance on me.

I FaceTimed her and told her that ever since we wore those T-shirts we started playing so much tougher and scrappier, and I just love that we were doing it in those T-shirts.

That’s what we want our program to be about, is just resilience and family and relationships, and if you notice our team, they high five, support each other. Dagne Apsite she is on the bench, hardly ever gets in the rotation, and she’s one of the greatest humans I’ve ever coached. Her attitude and how hard she is goes every single day. Her emotions after the game knowing our season was over. She was very emotional.

So top to bottom, injured players, coaching staff, I just feel like we do it the right way. You know, just really trying to put culture and character first.

And in the transcripts of the four interview sessions, there is much, much more from the Blue Hose. 

— FastScripts by ASAP Sports