Create your own meaning

There are plenty of cool aspects to being a sportswriter, though there are days when it’s not as much fun as it looks and from time to time my choose profession can seem, well, rather frivolous. After all, I’m not saving lives or brokering peace (and thank goodness that responsibility is not on my shoulders).

But as always, the universe reminds me from time to time that meaning is in the eye of the beholder.

With that, we say farewell to one of the best basketball players I’ve covered in my decade as a sportswriter — Dana Mitchell.

The senior forward for St. Bonaventure is the most decorated women’s player in school history and would be in the conversation for best player, male or female, in the athletic program. Even more importantly though, Dana would be in the top 5 (perhaps top 3) of most influential student-athletes to play at the small, rural Catholic school forever the David in the Goliath of the Atlantic 10.

Her career came to a close Monday night when St. Bonaventure lost in the second-round of the WNIT to Northwestern in the Reilly Center.

In the postgame press conference, she said when she arrived on campus with her fellow senior classmates, they weren’t trying to leave a legacy, but to establish something the program could fall back on when they were gone — to establish a culture of hard work, to reveal in the joy that comes with pushing teammates in practice, of being accountable, of having an attitude of confidence that doesn’t back down from any opponent regardless of talent, size or reputation.

But that is the legacy that Mitchell leaves. When she came to campus as a freshman, the Bona women’s program was starting to rebuild, starting to crawl it’s way out of the basement of the super-competitive  and underrated Atlantic 10 conference. They were starting to up the level of their non-conference opponents. They were starting to expect to win — and more importantly putting in the work, both physically and mentally, to create those wins.

And the wins started to come. And they kept coming. Against bigger schools. Against quality opponents.

Then came postseason bids to the WNIT. Then came the fans. And while 1800 at the second-round game Monday night might not sound like a lot, they were vocal and passionate and evidence that the community, or at least a major pocket of it, have embraced this women’s basketball program.

It wasn’t only the Dana Mitchell Show which made that happen. Her teammates were critical as was the coaching staff for finding and recruiting talented players then putting them in positions to succeed. But few would argue without Dana, women’s basketball at St. Bonaventure would not have enjoyed the same level of growth, on or off the court.

And watching how she did it is one of the joys, one of the main perks, of my job as a sportswriter.

Dana put the hard work ethic into practice. It didn’t matter if there were 20 people in the stands or 2,000 in the stands. She, and the rest of the team, were going to play hard defense and share the ball on offense. National attention? Fantastic. Playing in oblivion? So what. The Bonnies would play their game, would be true to themselves regardless of the outside circumstances. And even as success brought attention, the program downplayed it to some degree because success doesn’t continue if you become content. Being content with striving for .500 is what the program had been for long enough.

This was a new way of being.

A new way of seeing.

A new way of not only saying what it is you want to do but finding ways to make it happen. And once you’re serious about what you want, what you really want, everything else has a way of lining up to support you.

As one of the official observers of the program, I had no hand in making anything happen. But my role as the person who helps put it all into context, no longer seems so frivolous. What Dana and her teammates did — modeling how to create success to changing opinions about women’s athletics — is hard work and inspirational. And something I am deeply privileged and grateful to have been on press row for the last four years.

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~ by amymoritz on March 23, 2010.

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