Yesterday I left Nashville, Tenn. and took my last flight with the Stanford women’s basketball team until next fall. My weekend in the Music City for the Final Four was the perfect capstone for an unforgettable season with an amazing team.
People always ask me what I do for the team — I guess I don’t look like a player, even though I used to be! Well, they’re right: I’m not a player, but I’m one of the next-best things: I am the voice of Stanford women’s basketball.
At the start of the year I knew I would be traveling with the team, doing play-by-play for every game and in charge of KZSU’s coverage of the team. I wasn’t really sure what the year would bring, especially come winter quarter when I would be gone almost every weekend.
I could never have predicted the immense sense of accomplishment, the pride for Nerd Nation, the respect for the players and the amazing memories that would accompany the season. I would have never guessed how hard it would be to wrap up my last broadcast of the season — or that it would be at Bridgestone Arena in the Final Four — wishing that there could have been one more game because I just love so much feeling like a small part of the team.
Watching the team grow throughout the season — at home in Maples and on the road — and having some of those players become my friends has been an experience hard to capture in words.
I watched Lili Thompson become an integral part of the Cardinal’s effort and a permanent part of the starting lineup. I watched Bonnie Samuelson go from playing limited minutes to being the first player off the bench and then hardly ever taken out again. I witnessed the immense transformation of Mikaela Ruef from a player on a great team last year, to a player that makes the team great this year. I witnessed the interactions of the team and I was able to run into the locker room after they earned a berth into the Final Four and have them welcome me into their celebration. All these experiences have left me speechless.
Speechless is also a good way to describe my feelings towards Chiney Ogwumike. It’s no secret that I am Chiney’s number one fan. I almost died when she called me “homie” after an interview. When Tara VanDerveer took her out of the game against UConn because it was apparent that the Huskies had gotten the best of the Cardinal once again, there was probably a second of silence on the air as I was rendered speechless. It dawned on me that that that was the last time I, or anyone else, would get to see Chiney play with a red block “S” on her chest. It was the last time I would call a game that featured the legendary Chiney Ogwumike.
And I can say legendary with certainty. Chiney leaves the Farm as one of the greatest athletes to ever compete in its colors. She accumulated the most points and rebounds of any Stanford player during her career, surpassing the records of her sister Nneka, of Candice Wiggins, of Jayne Appel and of Jeanette Pohlen. I’ll be sure to brag about her more in my feature on her career soon to come.
While traveling with the team this season, I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s really like to be a student-athlete, experiencing the heavy toll of constant road trips firsthand (we’ve been on 18 flights since January) and observing the burdens and blessings of playing a sport at Stanford.
As the voice of Stanford women’s basketball, I got to share my love of basketball and of the team with other Cardinal fans and I have also gained invaluable experience for myself professionally that I can’t imagine gaining anywhere else — and I got to travel to Nashville!
This weekend I got to sit courtside at the Final Four, I got to meet one-on-one with ESPN analysts and work side-by-side with writers from ESPNW, The New York Times and The Washington Post. I want to have a career in sports and for that to happen, it’s all about networking and gaining experience. Covering such an illustrious team, working with the legendary Tara VanDerveer and providing play-by-play for every game this season has been priceless.
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to follow the run of Stanford women’s basketball into the Final Four and although I have to say goodbye to four amazing seniors and get to know three more freshmen next year, I am already looking forward to the 2014-15 season and to finding out who will be the next Stanford great to follow Chiney.
Yesterday, I returned to campus with the team for the last time this year, closing a chapter of my sophomore year that has been unforgettable and one that no one else can claim as their own.
Ashley Westhem just finished photocopying the selfie that she took with Chiney Ogwumike 500 times to wallpaper her room with. Tell her why that’s just a little bit unsettling at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet at her @ashwest16.