Doug Wolter: Tough losses hurt, but special memories linger
The West Lady Jays' amazing opportunity at the national basketball tournament ended in disappointment. But for them, and other sports teams, disappointment can eventually give way to special memories that won't fade.
I’ll be honest. I hurt a bit when the Minnesota West women’s basketball team lost in the semifinals to Hostos in the NJCAA Division III national tournament. What made it worse was that West led by nine points heading into the final quarter.
Obviously, it was much more of a disappointment to the Lady Jays, themselves. Their impossible dreams were real enough to touch before that last quarter got under way. Just think of it: These players who had struggled early in the season, then bonded and learned how to play and win together, suddenly had a very legitimate chance to become 2022 national champions.
They lost their third-place game, too, which probably wasn’t particularly surprising. By then, they were fighting against physical and mental exhaustion.
What head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka’s said afterward made me think. She said, “I told the girls, ‘This might be the last time all of us are together. But you will remember this the rest of your lives. And I’ll remember it the rest of my life. To me, you will always be THAT team.’”
Team sports are great, aren't they? But of course they can also be so emotional that you think you’re going to bust when the season ends in ways that you knew it might but you didn’t want to think about it.
As I followed the West/Hostos game on Friday, March 11, I decided I would scrap my plans to watch Pipestone Area and Westbrook-Walnut Grove play for sub-section boys basketball championships in Marshall Saturday if the Lady Jays had won. Then I’d drive to Rochester and cover the national championship game.
Not that I didn’t care to see the Arrows and the Chargers. I love section title games. But I couldn’t miss the Lady Jays vie for their moment of historic glory. I wanted to hug each one of them. My college journalism teachers would have waved their fingers at me for showing such bias, but hey, sometimes even sports writers are human.
So I went to Marshall. Both the Arrows and the Chargers lost their games. Their loss, I think, was even more upsetting to Pipestone Area, which possessed the No. 1 seed. Tears flowed on a couple of the players just moments after their defeat against Redwood Valley. For a couple of them, tears still were being shed after the medals ceremony. Players went to coaches, family members and girlfriends for consolation.
All over the country, March is a month in high school and college sports when emotions run wild, almost uncontrollable. And for anyone who spends time together with teammates dreaming of performing incredible feats, there comes a moment when reality hits you.
What I think of, in those times, is something that actually becomes a beautiful positive even in what seems to be the worst thing that can happen. And that is, the depth of emotion becomes seared in the depths of the heart. Athletes who say they love their teammates (and I’ve heard it spoken to me often) really do love them in those moments. And years later, when they become old women and men, they feel blessed by the totality of the shared experience.
There’s nothing like it really, unless you try to compare it to the way soldiers feel about their comrades after they’ve faced serious combat together. No one outside the unit, no one outside the team, can even try to fully understand.
For a moment as I thought about the Lady Jays’ final loss in the national tournament, I wished I had been in their locker room immediately before and after Coach Hayenga-Hostikka’s last time together speech. It would have been extraordinary to share the tears, the hugs, and to hear what those young women said to each other.
But of course that wouldn’t be right. Those kinds of shared moments are only for the warriors who experience their trials and tribulations together. We who are on the outside can never fully understand.