When you’ve compiled 340 wins, and 612 total games coached at one school, there’s a good chance that there’s more than just one game which qualifies as “memorable”. For Springfield College’s women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves, this is just the case.
As Springfield’s all-time leader in women’s basketball coaching wins, Graves has seen quite a few great games played in Blake Arena. From seasons where the team eclipsed 25 wins, to ones where just two wins were mustered, Graves has gone through just about every experience a coach can.
For Coach Graves, it was the team’s win against Eastern Connecticut on March 2nd, 2002 in the DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament which sent Springfield College into the Sweet 16. Springfield went 25-4 that year, with a 17 game win streak thrown in there.
Both of those stats still stand as school records to this day. With a NEWMAC regular-season and tournament title under their belt, the team was ready for more.
Eastern Connecticut was no slouch either, going 26-3 that season, going 13-1 in the Little East, with a 14 game win streak of their own. It was shaping up to be one of Springfield’s biggest game all season.
Blake Arena was packed, with over 800 fans filling the stands. “Everybody on campus came. The faculty came, the president came.” Graves said. “Being able to host the game on campus made all the difference,” Graves added. “We had won the NEWMACs, and we had gotten to host it. I think it was our first time being able to host a round.”
In front of an energetic home crowd, the game began, and Springfield did not disappoint. Junior guard Carah Dawe lead the way for the Pride, scoring 15 points. Senior forward Becky Kanupka, and the NEWMAC Player of the Year, added 14 points and six boards to Springfield’s cause.
Springfield didn’t have control of the game the whole time, however, as they trailed with under eight minutes remaining, 42-41.
It took a 19-9 run, and a strong defense to stop one of the best offensive teams around, to slow down the Warriors and take the lead. Dawe’s three-pointer with 1:32 left in the match gave Springfield a five point lead, as they would go on to win 61-50.
“It was pretty exciting for our team,” Graves explained, “I had come back to Springfield in 1991, and the program was not very successful. So to win that game meant a lot to me, because it measured a level of success that this program hadn’t seen in a while.”
In her office in Blake Arena, Graves keeps a framed photograph of the game. The photo looks down on the game, as it winds to an end. With just minutes left, the stands were still packed to see the Pride roll on to victory. “This is why I hang this hear,” Graves said, “See all those people in the stands? Amazing.”
She went on to point out all of the players in the shot, adding which ones had kids now, which ones coached where, so on and so forth.
“I think that the reason I keep the photo there is because we on that game, no one thought we would win that game.” Graves explained. “It reminds me of why I work so hard, because I want to get back there.”
With the team off to a 13-5 start this year despite an 0-3 start, they could be looking at another special season in the making. For Coach Graves, it’s all about getting back to the tournament, back to a stadium filled to the brim, back to the photo that she sees every day when she comes into work.