A tale of what happens when you don’t know any better

In all honesty it was some of the worst basketball I had seen from a St. Bonaventure women’s basketball in years. They were tight. They were flat. They were uninspiring. This was not the team that had built itself into a small mid-major powerhouse in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a highly respected conference with big names and big teams. For 30 minutes it really wasn’t great basketball and the team’s winning streak and rise into national recognition were in jeopardy.

Doris Ortega led the Bona women.

But then came the last 10 minutes and something clicked. It wasn’t quite like turning on a switch, more like gutting out a tough day at the office. The Bonnies dug deep, found their defensive intensity and converted those stops into points. In the end, it was a sophomore forward Doris Ortega who had a career-high 20 points, a surprising breakout performance desperately needed when the team’s top two scorers and senior leaders were struggling to get shots. In the end, it was a 68-61 win over Bona over Saint Joseph’s, another win in a what is turning into a truly charmed season.

In my life as a sportswriter, I’ve spent the better part of the last 12 years covering women’s basketball in western New York State. And while in the interest of full disclosure I am indeed one of the “sons and daughters of St. Bonaventure forever”  it doesn’t change the fact that the Bona team has been one of the biggest stories in women’s sports in the area, arguably in the post-Title IX era.

What happens when you only know success? What is then possible?

The Bonnies are 19-2 overall this year. They’ve won at least 20 games the last three years and have gone to the WNIT, one of the postseason tournaments, each time. The senior class only knows winning. They only understand success. They don’t know that St. Bonaventure is a podunk school in a podunk town with no money and no business even being in the Atlantic 10 Conference let alone undefeated and leading the conference. They don’t know that when I first started writing about women’s basketball for The Buffalo News 12 years ago that I routinely received emails telling me how much readers didn’t care for women’s basketball and hated (I mean hated) seeing stories about it in their morning paper.

They don’t know that when you’re down 13 points on the road, you’re supposed to lose. Or that when your leading scorers are struggling at home and it’s late and you’re tired you’re just supposed to roll over and move on to the next game. Or that they’re not supposed to play that hard in front of stands which are only a quarter full.

OK, these are smart young women and maybe they do know that. Maybe they do know all the story lines about why they shouldn’t succeed. And maybe they just don’t care. Whether they’re living in a world of success, teamwork and dedication or in a world where they aggressively ignore the negative thinking, this program is inspiring. Whatever their motivations, collective and individual, they reinforce what we all are sometimes afraid to believe — that truly anything is possible, if you believe, I mean really believe, that it is.

I thought about the Bonnies this morning as I gathered my belongings for my interval workout on the treadmill. I was tired and fighting being not in the mood for six intervals of 800 meters. But I stopped myself, stopped telling myself that I was tired. I started telling myself I had plenty of energy, that this was going to be good. In fact those 800 meter repeats on the treadmill were freaking hard today. But I did them. Every single one. I kept my focus. I used the mantra “strong.” I dug deep. And I did the hard work which wasn’t running 800 meter sprints six times on the treadmill. The hard work was keeping myself mentally in the game. I thought about the Bonnies and how they don’t know any better. They just go out and play. And win.

I brought a little bit of that swagger home with me. If my interval workout is any indication, it’s going to be an interesting, and powerful, kind of day.

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