The Final Game – 2012 NCAA DIII Championship Game

It did not end as we would have wanted: Illinois Wesleyan University 57, George Fox University 48. We finished second in the nation – runner-up. It is not something Americans like to do.

It was a difficult game and we knew that we had our backs against the wall when our All-American center, Hannah Munger, left the game just five minutes into the first half with a knee injury. In spite of her absence, the team fought back from a seven-point deficit to go ahead in the final minutes.

For those of us who have participated in sports, close defeats seem to stay with you longer. When you are dominated by another team, you leave the gym or stadium knowing that you were not the better team. In a close contest, you rethink every move you made during the game and think, “If only I had …”

As the final buzzer sounded, it was clear that our team fought to the end. They never gave up at any moment. They spent every ounce of energy on the court. Staff members at the host campus, Hope College, consistently came up to me after the game and told me how proud they were of our team. They noted what fine young women we had and how well they carried themselves. I hope every one knows that they represented us well. It was the end of a spectacular season.

I would like to share a few moments in the game that became very important to me. When Hannah went down in the first half Saiko, one of our very fine athletic trainers, went to help her. She was lying at the end of the basketball court behind the bleachers. Something inside me said, “You need to go see her.” So I walked down the bleachers and joined Saiko and a local doctor who was treating Hannah. She was in pain and, of course, I am not a doctor. What I could do is provide some comfort, and I tried my best to do that. I held her hand as she suffered with the pain and the anguish of the injury and what appeared to be the end of her season.

The doctor told Hannah that she had sprained ligaments and, depending on the pain, she might be able to play. (What you need to keep in mind is that Hannah has been pushed and shoved by teams all year long. She is tough and not easily stymied by small injuries.) So Saiko and I got her up (she is rather tall), and we walked around with her on the volleyball court in the Devos arena. I put my arm around her waist and took her weight, and she put her arm on my shoulder. We walked, but painfully slow. The pain was significant, and it was obvious that her knee was beginning to swell. We went back to the locker room where Saiko tried to tape her knee up to give it some strength because it was becoming clear that she really wanted to try to go back into the game. Hannah wanted to get back into the national championship game to help her teammates. All the time we are talking, we could see the clock in the locker room ticking down toward the end of half-time. Her mother and father came into the locker room and prayed with her. There was a real sense of the game just slowly fading away. Saiko decided to put ice on her knee and assess her condition after halftime.

At the end of halftime, I went back to the locker room and Hannah was sitting with ice on her knee. Saiko asked her if she wanted to try her knee again. Hannah said yes. So I helped her up again, and we headed for the volleyball court to see how she felt. She was trying, but she continued to limp and wince with every step. Finally, I stopped her and we stood together on the court. I asked if I could provide some advice from the perspective of an old athlete. She said yes.

In my heart (and mind), I remembered long ago when a man named Willis Reed who played for the New York Knicks came back after an injury in a game and led his team to victory over the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. I thought perhaps this was a similar moment for Hannah. (Of course those were the days of cortisone shots and little care about the future as to whether one could walk later or not. The game was everything.)

But then, I reflected more as a father of a daughter. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Hannah, this is a game. It is a national championship game but it is only a game. I am much more concerned about your future than this one moment in time. As much as you want to go into this game, if your knee is hurting you, it is not worth the risk.” She thought for a minute, took a couple of more steps and said, “I can’t go back in.” Through her tears, she said she wanted to sit on the bench and cheer the team on. She walked across the court as the halftime buzzer went off and took her place on the bench.

Most of you know I love to win and I sure hated losing this game – still, it’s just a game. We really do believe at George Fox University that we prepare students to be known as God’s agents in our world. We finished second on the scoreboard one late winter night in 2012, but if you measure success by a group’s ability to reflect love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness, then I can testify that there is no better group of young women in the country than those on the basketball team of George Fox University.

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8 Responses to The Final Game – 2012 NCAA DIII Championship Game

  1. Darryl Brown says:

    Great story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robin, during this exciting Final Four weekend!

    • robinbaker says:

      Darryl,

      As you know, one of the great privileges of working at George Fox is becoming part of the stories of our students. Because I am a former athlete and musician I have a tendency to relate to students with similar backgrounds and experiences. Every once in awhile I get to “walk alongside” students and get to share in their experience — this weekend was one of those times. God calls each of us to be “encouragers” — providing support to the next generation of leaders. Hannah actually made me feel just a little bit “useful” this past Saturday night and a part of the “team” in ways I had never been. I was proud of everyone one of our women who fought valiantly and as a team. Other than my father, Coach Wooden was my favorite coach when I was growing up. He once said this to his team — “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” On Saturday night, March 17th, the George Fox women took second on the scoreboard but they were first in the battle of courage. Robin Baker

  2. Norene Beaver says:

    Hannah – I am the mother of a high school senior that went down with a torn ACL/Meniscus injury at match point during the state volleyball championships on 11/11/11. We did everything we could to get her back on the court 6 hours later for our last match. The believed it was a pulled gastrocenimius (sp) muscle and taped her up for stability. She warmed up with the team, played the first 5 points of the match and went down again after attempting a kill. She, her coach, her trainer and her team knew she was done and in agony had to watch a painful match in which we were not victorious. After an MRI it was determined that Meaghan had torn her ACL and receive a bucket tear of her miniscus. She was told it would be 6 months before she would see the volleyball court again. The thing is they didn’t know Meaghan or her determination. I am happy to report that after some VERY aggressive physical therapy, patience and LOTS of prayer, Meaghan returned to the vb court 3 months post op. It is unheard of but the doctor saw no reason to not let her return. She has been playing for about 4 weeks now, continues her physical therapy to correct some balance issues that may have contributed to the injury and does Crossfit to continue strengthening her legs. We believe everything happens for a reason and she can now use what she has gone through to work with athletes who suffer such injuries as she will be studying Athletic Training………our prayers are with you Hannah – have patience and do your research!

    • robinbaker says:

      Dear Mrs. Beaver. Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. It was so good to hear the story of your daughter. I will pass your good words on to Hannah. She is a great young woman and one with great strength. We certainly claim the promises of God as we pray for Hannah as well. God’s blessings on your family

      Robin Baker

  3. Gary Tandy says:

    Robin,

    Thanks for the story. It’s been so fun watching this team play. Like every other fan watching the game, I was crushed when Hannah went down. I knew how disappointing that had to be–both for Hannah and the entire team.

    The day after the game I watched the video of the post-game interview with Hannah, Coach Meek, Keisha Gordon, and Megan Arnoldy. I was so impressed by their positive and gracious attitudes in the face of such disappointment. The class they displayed only a few moments after experiencing their first defeat of the season spoke volumes about their character and that of the team. As you say, they represented George Fox well.

    Gary

    • robinbaker says:

      Gary, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughtful comments. I was listening to the post-game comments of Coach K following the Duke loss in the first round when he said: “the game gives you great highs and also some very significant lows. Today, was one of those low points.” Yesterday my father, who is a hall-of-fame coach in the state of Arizona called and he noted how our game brought back all the memories of games almost won. The most painful was one where they had the game won in the playoffs and an opposing player hit a bank shot from the corner to win the game as the clock ran out. It was devastating at the time. Once those games are over you think back through every play and decision and ask yourself “if only we had done this differently.” In the end the score remains the same and the pain goes away slowly over time (even if the memories remain.) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, reflecting on Coach Wooden, noted “Coach Wooden enjoyed winning, but he did not put winning above everything. He was more concerned that we became successful as human beings, that we earned our degrees, that we learned to make the right choices as adults and as parents. In essence, he was preparing us for life.” Hannah, as you know, is focused on becoming an elementary school teacher and in a year she will venture out into the schools and begin to change the lives of students in our culture. Games are fun but they are not life as my Dad noted in his phone call to me. Like you I am proud to work with these young women (and all the students at Fox) and to help them become who God has called them to be. That is the most valuable contribution we make to the future. I am proud to be working with faculty like you Gary. Thank you.

      Robin

  4. Isaac Berg says:

    Great perspective! I love hearing stories like this, and as a Fox student I’ve been proud of our girls team. Thank you for recommending this to me the other day.

    • robinbaker says:

      Isaac —

      Thank you. It was good to see you in the fitness center and to get to know you. I am sure that you are aware that it is the desire of George Fox employees to know students personally and to come alongside them as they “walk the halls” of George Fox. It is my greatest joy to see a student really find themselves here and understand a vision for their life. I look forward to other conversations with you.

      Robin Baker