WINONA LAKE – There was very little coach Dan Davis could say to make it any better. It might have been a first for the boisterous Grace College women’s basketball coach.
It still doesn’t make the circumstances for Grace’s halt to the women’s basketball season sit any easier.
As has been widely reported and echoed by college programs all over the country, aspirations of postseason dreams were dashed among the flurry of the national coronavirus pandemic last week. The Lady Lancers were among those who saw ‘we will’ turn into ‘what if’ followed by a lot of anger, confusion and feelings of unfinished business.
The women’s team was a week away from playing at home in the 2020 NCCAA National Championships and were poised to be a high seed in the field. The team enjoyed a stellar season under head coach Dan Davis. The Lady Lancers finished the year with a 19-13 record, setting the record for highest winning percentage all-time at .594.
Grace was one win away from tying a program record for wins (20), earning its 19th last Wednesday in the NCCAA Midwest Regional. The gym at Cedarville was empty other than essential staff and team personnel.
“It was strange to walk into the gym and see nobody there in the stands other than some staff and the bus driver,” Davis said of the team’s contest against Concordia, one it would win 77-58. “But really once we got in, started warming up and got into our routine. Once the ball went up, our team came out ready to play.”
Vironnica Drake would put on a show, as she did all season and really through her four years at Grace. Drake would drop in 23 points, five rebounds and four steals in the win, which would be the final hurrah of her illustrious career. The all-time leading scorer at Grace would finish the night with 1,981 career points.
Drake wound up fourth all-time in rebound (740) and seventh in assists (283), and with the point total joined Cheryl Myers as the only two to to finish their careers ranked in the top 10 in all three statistical categories.
“Vironnica Drake was 19 points from 2,000, she was not only going to get it, she was going to get it easy,” Davis said. “She was going to break the single season scoring record. For her and those seniors, they were going to get three more games on their home floor in a national tournament setting. It’s a bummer, there’s no doubt about it.”
Davis mentioned that he kept telling the girls to not take it for granted, to soak up every moment. He struggled, though, to find the right combination of words when Grace athletic director Chad Briscoe stopped their practice last Thursday, alerting the team the home tournament was going to get shut down just hours after Briscoe had to face the men’s team after its NAIA hopes were dashed to a tournament cancellation.
“We had a light shooting practice at 4 o’clock, the girls were sharp and we were doing our thing,” Davis said of how last Thursday started to break down. “Chad told us if he had to come down to the floor then it was canceled. We were in practice, about 10 or 15 minutes left and coach Briscoe came down on the floor and she shared with the girls everything.
“It was just a real somber moment. For a while, you just didn’t know what to say.”
Davis, who is about as energetic as they come, tried to put a positive spin on what seems to be an impossible situation for any coach right now. He had to find a lot of intestinal fortitude to come to grips his seniors – Drake, Micaela Box, Lexi Minix, Rachel Montgomery and Brooke Treadway – wouldn’t lace ’em up anymore.
“This is definitely a punch to the gut, but you have to teach your kids that’s life,” offered Davis. “You gotta fight. Life’s going to throw some tough things at you, and you gotta get up and fight. You just have to step back and take a little inventory of everything that’s going on. Make sure we’re doing the things we need to do to stay healthy and help our community stay healthy.”