As the final seconds ticked off the clock during Juniata's 72-52 Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III South Region championship win over Wesley March 8, Claudia McDowell savored the moment.
Just three months before, the Juniata Valley graduate was at the extreme opposite of the emotional spectrum.
McDowell's brother, Alex, died in a car accident Dec. 12 just six days before Juniata traveled to Messiah. The senior guard managed a team-high 14 points but committed seven turnovers, which tied her season high, in that game.
"It was hard," McDowell said. "Basketball was kind of my outlet to what was going on in my life, and I didn't want to let my team down. I didn't really think there was really an option [not to play]; it was something I had to do.
"Honestly I don't remember that game too much, because I was kind of out of it."
That's why the memory of Juniata's first postseason championship of any kind in women's basketball meant more to McDowell than perhaps anyone else.
"There were a lot of emotions going on in that game toward the end with the clock ticking down," McDowell said. "I'm thinking that this is it. I missed my brother not being there, but not too many people get to end their career with a win, and I was very happy with the result of the game."
Along with helping Juniata to the ECAC South Region title, McDowell took home the tournament's most valuable player honor.
"For the obstacles she overcame, it was pretty much a storybook season," Juniata coach Danny Young-Uhrich said. "Claudia triumphed through a lot and it's pretty cool she ended her season on such a positive note.
"She struggled midway through the season offensively, but she finally put everything together in the ECAC tournament."
McDowell, and the rest of the Lady Eagles, nearly did not get an opportunity to play in the tournament. Juniata was awarded the No. 8 seed in the eight-team tournament, but first was forced to suffer through a two-day waiting period during which it did not know whether its season was over or not.
"I had a pretty good feeling based on our out-of-conference record that we would get in," Young-Uhrich said. "I was a little weary about how things would go [in the tournament], because we didn't achieve our goal of winning the Landmark Conference.
"I guess I consider it fate with the seniors getting to achieve that championship. I didn't even think winning was a possibility, but we became the team we should have been all season."
McDowell scored 46 points in the three games of the tournament, and scored 968 in her three-year career at Juniata, and as was the case the entire season, the senior guard's defense shined. McDowell was named the Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 83 steals.
"I really enjoy defense, and I take pride in my defense so I was pretty happy to get that award," McDowell said. "Anyone can score, but defense is an important aspect that sometimes gets overlooked. I'm always concentrating on my defense, scouting ahead."
Something else McDowell has planned ahead for is the future of the Juniata women's basketball program. Before McDowell arrived at Juniata for the 2006 season after transfering from Hosftra, the Lady Eagles had went a combined 32-65 in the past four years. During her tenure, Juniata was 51-31, and McDowell hopes that trend will continue.
"They are going to be young, but I worked with the freshmen, getting them used to everything and getting them acquainted with what it takes to be a winning team," McDowell said. "I've tried to pass along what I know about being successful in both basketball and non-basketball skills."
After what McDowell persevered through to achieve success in her senior season, the advice likely couldn't have come from a better subject.