There are times when you just have to stop and take a look at what’s behind you and take stock of just how far you’ve come.
Friday night brought one of those landmark moments that prompt a retrospective.
The Gonzaga women’s basketball team went into Palo Alto, California, a place where they have never before had success, and beat the No 11-ranked team in the nation: the Stanford Cardinal. The final score was 68-63.
It was a win. The kind of win that redefines who you are.
In women’s basketball, programs like Stanford are different. They are storied and they are special. Wins against them count the same in the standings, yes, but in all other respects they count for far more.
Gonzaga has come oh-so-close to a win like this one before.
There was the Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee in 2015. The Bulldogs were up by 17 points with 6:34 left to play and lost in overtime. And there was the game last year against Stanford, where Gonzaga led by one with 6:23 left and wound up losing by 17.
There are phases that a program goes through. At first, top-level teams invite you to come to their place to play the occasional game – it’s a payday for up-and-coming programs.
After a while, they schedule you as a quality opponent they feel they can beat. It’s more of a payday with respect.
Over the years Gonzaga worked its way into a third category: the home-and-home quality opponent. It’s a sign of respect for the program that Stanford is willing to come to the Kennel.
The fact that both the men’s and women’s programs at Gonzaga are shining examples of how a small school can play with the big names in the sport of college basketball is something to be proud of. And the fact that the women’s program was able to replace the departed Kelly Graves with Lisa Fortier and not miss a beat is yet another sign of how the program is going about its business in the right way.
One of the best things about the women’s program at Gonzaga happens in the stands at every single home game.
Look around the stands at the McCarthey Athletic Center before, during and after a game and look at all the young girls with stars in their eyes. They are a generation that will grow up with strong, athletic role models. They will grow up understanding what they can accomplish in their own life and what they can accomplish when they work together with other strong, athletic women.
The days of girls sports, women’s sports, being held in empty gymnasiums with only the occasional parent cheering them on are long gone in Spokane.
Steve Christilaw can be reached at email@example.com.
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