CI Sports Report with Elise Menaker: Life after a national championship

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On Thursday, March 19, 10 years ago the Millikin University's women's basketball team won a national championship.  I caught up with a few women from that championship squad and found out what life is like after it's all over.

Millikin University women's basketball coach Lori Kerans has been head coach at the college since she was 21 years old and is just the second head coach in the team's 45 year existence.  Twenty-nine seasons she's been leading the Big Blue.  Kerans has coached around 580 girls so far in her career.

But it's 19 women 10 years ago who won the national championship.

“I can still remember all the plays and everything that happened but really what I think about in these last 10 years or so is how much it meant to everybody in the community, at the university,” Laura Zimmerman, member of the championship team, described.

“Everybody's talked about it ever since, and I was just thrilled,” exclaimed superfan Jo Ann Swansen.  “One of the best things I've ever done was go to that tournament.  It was fabulous.  It brings tears to my eyes.  It was so fabulous.”

In the very same gym they won the second round of the national tournament, three members of that title team meet again.

“We tend to know them in a basketball uniform but really there's so much more than what the number shows,” said Lori Kerans head women's basketball coach.

Then number 31 and MVP in the final four, today most people refer to Joanna Conner as coach as full-time assistant coach of the Millikin girl's squad.  There's Andrea Reibock Dorsey now assistant coach and mom.  And once a starter, Dr. Laura Zimmerman is a biology professor at Millikin.  And the many women after that like Tracie Yantis and Megan Mateer who have continued the basketball legacy.  It's not often past players can get together like this, but when they do, it's just like the old days.

“It's kind of like being home,” Zimmerman described.  “Just the comfort level.  We can joke around, laugh about some of those funny things that used to happen.”

“Those are the people that you sweat with, and you eat with, and you run with, and you train with and travel with,” Kerans said.

So the bond is unbreakable.

“I think all of us would say we're stronger, more ourselves, more confident, and I think that's something that you build when you play basketball here at Millikin,” Zimmerman explained.

“Looking at everybody just thrilled,” Swansen described as she recounted the memories.  “I can't even express how fantastic it was.”

And the lessons they learn last forever.

“When you step into that gym, you're never going to be that perfect player your freshman year and you're going to miss some shots,” Zimmerman said.  “You're not going to do everything right and that's just kind of how life is.  You have to be able to learn from your experiences, take coaching and work on improving.”

Because life goes on beyond the hard court.

That 2005 team won the national championship against Randolph-Macon by a score of 70 to 50.  The school celebrated the anniversary a few months ago but obviously it's an accomplishment the women and a community are proud of every day.


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