It was 6:00 a.m. on Monday, March 2. It was before “bright and early.” I was sitting on a bus, getting ready to travel with the Lady Choctaw women’s basketball team to Cleveland, Tenn., for a battle against Lee University in the first round of the Gulf South Conference tournament. The Lady Choctaws were going into the matchup as the #7 seed in the tournament and were in for a challenge against the 2-seed in the tournament and eleventh ranked team in the country.
I was traveling with the team to do audio play-by-play. I have done play-by-play plenty of times for games, but this was my first time traveling with one of the teams for a road game. I was actually pretty nervous for the game. I did not find out that I would be traveling with the team until Sunday afternoon. I had a good bit of work to do for an online class, so I made the decision to pull an all-nighter Sunday night in order to finish my online work due Monday because I did not completely trust myself to wake up on time in order to make it to the bus on time.
When we left the school, I tried to stay up and on my phone for a little while, but I eventually just went to sleep. I woke up when we stopped for breakfast at Chick-fil-A in Tuscaloosa. I got a little bite to eat and then went back to sleep on the bus. I once again slept until it was time to eat again, this time for lunch at Jason’s Deli. Shortly after lunch, we arrived at our hotel. I decided to take a nap before we went with the team for practice. After practice, we all went to Cracker Barrel for supper. Once we got back to the hotel, I worked on gathering information for my play-by-play while also watching NBA basketball. After that, my roommate for the trip Corey Rholdon and I watched Netflix until we went to sleep.
The next morning, we went back to Lee’s gym for a shootaround. After that, we all went to Longhorn Steakhouse for the pregame meal. We then went back to the hotel for a little while before heading to the gym for the game. Once we got there, I got all my stuff set up, and I felt ready to go.
When it was time to go live (15 minutes before the game started), I pressed the “live” button and pressed confirm. It said that the connection failed, and that I couldn’t connect. We tried troubleshooting, but nothing was working. We finally got the stream set up (there was an issue with the input on the backend with our streaming service) with about 2 minutes left in the first half. Then, come to find out, the audio was acting up and was very low. Not sure what the exact issue here was, but I just had to go with it.
My rough start technologically at the media table was mirrored by a tough start for the Lady Choctaws on the court. Lee finished the first quarter on an 8-2 run as they lead 23-16 after the first. Then Lee outscored MC by 16 in the second quarter to take a 49-26 lead into the halftime break. Then in the second half, the Lady Choctaws did what they had done through the final few weeks of the regular season and heroically fought their way back into the game. MC outscored the Lady Flames 20-6 in the third quarter to cut the lead to 55-46 heading into the final period. A Zariah Matthews jumper early in the fourth quarter cut the lead to 7. With 5:30 left in the game, the Lady Choctaws trailed by just 8 and had a ton of momentum. But then the Lady Choctaws wore down, and thanks to some late fouls, Lee ultimately won the game 72-55.
After the game, we groggily drove to Steak & Shake to get a bite to eat before leaving Cleveland. It was a very long drive back during which I slept for the majority of the ride back. We finally got back to campus at around 3:15 a.m. Wednesday morning. After a drive back to my dorm and a shower, I finally got into my bed at around 4 a.m. to finish off what was a very long, tiring, frustrating (at times), but also fun and beneficial 46 hour trip.
It was a tough way for the Lady Choctaws to end their season, at 13-14 overall, but MC lost to one of the best teams in the country. It was a stellar end of the season for the Lady Choctaws as they won five of their last six games of the regular season in order to qualify for the conference tournament. This was the Lady Choctaws first appearance in the GSC women’s basketball tournament since 1995. At the end of the season, it ended up being a very balanced effort from the Lady Choctaws that led them to the conference tournament. Matthews led the team with 14.5 points per game, four other Lady Choctaws (Coco Hobson, Shanell Kitchens, Mikeba Jones and Moriah Hurst) all averaged double digits in points per game. Hobson led the team with 8 rebounds per game, Jones and Hurst both also averaged 5 rebounds per game. Kaitlyn Thompson also added 4 per game. Matthews ended up averaging 4.6 assists per game for her senior season. Kitchens also led the conference in steals per game with just under 3 per game.
The Lady Choctaws were picked to finish eleventh in the preseason conference poll, but well exceeded those expectations. As someone who watched this team from the beginning of the season to the end, it was undeniable how much they had grown and improved from the start to the end. The only question now is: how much will they grow between now and the start of next season?