The NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament came to Central Pennsylvania, providing much more than a home-court advantage for the Penn State Lady Lions.
The first- and second-round event was also the opportunity for local fans, including up-and-coming players, to witness exciting postseason basketball in an electrified atmosphere, right here in our own backyard.
Hopefully those fans could appreciate the 14th-seeded Navy squad, making its first-ever appearance in the Big Dance. Facing three-seed DePaul in the first round, Navy was a heavy underdog, but it had the support of the Bryce Jordan Center crowd from the opening tip.
All 64 women's teams battled to earn their spot in the bracket. However, a special spirit among the team from the U.S. Naval Academy was evident. While other players are referred to as student-athletes, these young women are Midshipmen, the only team to wear a uniform on and off the basketball court.
Midshipmen First Class Angela Myers and Cassie Consedine will graduate this spring with their college degrees, as well as a five-year commitment ahead of them as Naval ground officers. While most senior basketball players are thinking about graduate school, professional basketball or non-sports careers, these inspiring women are awaiting their assignments on ships in Japan, San Diego or Norfolk.
"Commitment" is a term used frequently in relation to sport, but it takes on a whole new meaning for the athletes who take off their basketball jerseys and put on the uniform of one of our armed forces.
Their college commitment extends far beyond the walls of their classrooms and courts - to their country. Their dedication to our nation is apparent: while many players sway or hold hands during the pre-game national anthem, the Navy squad stands at attention.
The respect Navy's opponents have for it is also apparent: after beating Navy in the first-round game on Saturday, the DePaul squad lined up behind the Midshipmen as the Navy band played its alma mater; afterward, Demons coach Dave Bruno praised the Navy student-athletes for their service and sacrifice.
When Myers and Consedine were freshmen, Navy won only seven basketball games. As they now prepare to leave the academy, they've led their squad to their first Patriot League Championship and NCAA tournament bid, raising the bar for the program's bright future under coach Stefanie Pemper.
If sports are a microcosm of life, and the lessons learned on the court translate to the real world, these young women have a great deal of success in their future. That success is good for them, but it is also vital for our nation. For them, losing may happen in a game, but in life, failure is not an option.
They may not be national champions, but they are national heroes.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.