COLUMN: It should have been Eastern and Little Rock

Rob Le Cates

Autumn Schulz is a junior sports media relations major and can be reached at 581-2912 or [email protected].

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

It has been almost a week since the OVC Tournament semifinal game and I want to firstly offer my congratulations to the Tennessee Tech players and coaching staff on winning the 2023 OVC Tournament.

I think that coming in as the third seed in the tournament and being able to knock off both the second and first seed teams is something that should be celebrated.

The Golden Eagles have a ton of talented women on their team and watching Jada Guinn, Anna Walker, and Maaliya Owens absolutely tear it up against Eastern in the semifinal game and then going on to lead their team to a OVC Championship win was fantastic.

I will always be proud of the amount of talent that the OVC women’s basketball teams have and I think the OVC Tournament is always a clear showing of that talent.

I also want to thank head coach Kim Rosamond for being very respectful in the post-game interview after the semifinal game. She led her team to its second OVC Championship game in a row but she took the time to acknowledge the talent that the Panthers have.

There is a way that coaches can still be proud of their team in that moment while still having respect for the other teams’ coaches and players and coach Rosamond was a great example of that.

I wish the Golden Eagles the best of luck on Sunday as they will be hosting their Selection Show Watch Party for the NCAA Tournament.

I hope that they continue to represent the OVC well.

But man, is it hard.

It was so hard to watch the Panthers lose in the OVC Tournament for the second year in a row. Last season, the Panthers were knocked off by Tennessee State and that was my first OVC Tournament as a sports journalist.

Being there in the Ford Center last season, watching them lose, made me appreciate the team even more.

However, this season was different because of the history that was made by the team in the regular season.

They were able to go 13-0 in the OVC, the best start in the OVC in EIU history during Lariah Washington’s and Morgan Litwiller’s senior seasons. That is something that I could not have pictured better for the two of them.

They both poured their blood, sweat, and tears in the Panthers for four years and they both have left behind terrific history. They both deserved nothing less during their last seasons.

My assistant sports editor, Kate, covered the team very well the entire season. I was there after the home games with her in the interview room as she asked questions.

Although I did not directly cover the team, I still felt as if I was a part of their wins and losses. Head coach Matt Bollant and the players have thanked Kate and I for the coverage, so I know that they know that we care.

Therefore, after the Panthers locked in the second seed and Little Rock locked in the first seed, both Kate and I were sure that the OVC Championship game would be between us and Little Rock. We talked about it on our podcast, Getting Emotional, (which you should definitely check out, by the way).

The team was confident that they would be winning two games on Friday and Saturday. The Panthers would get their revenge on the Golden Eagles for beating them on Senior Day and they would meet Little Rock for a chance at the OVC title for the first time since 2013.

We had confidence in them, too. Now, my confidence in the team to do well next season has not faltered just because of their loss, but it certainly does not minimize how sad I feel for the Panthers.

It is hard to not think about what could have happened. If we would have beat the Golden Eagles and made our way to the OVC Championship game, I know that it would have been a great game against Little Rock.

Again, Little Rock is full of talented women. I mean, Sali Kourouma won OVC Women’s Player of the Year. Kate and I did not get a chance to see her play in Lantz earlier this season when the Panthers beat them because she did not play.

It was Little Rock’s first year in the OVC and they not only were regular season OVC Champions, but they made their way to the title game. Little Rock will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

I was looking forward to seeing two very talented teams go head-to-head for the OVC Title. Both teams were at the top of the conference for the duration of the regular season.

It seemed like it would all play out perfectly. Now, I am sure that Bollant and the players do not want my sympathy. They know they lost a 10-point lead, they know what they could have done better to ensure a win.

I just need to get emotional for now, okay.

One of the things that makes it so difficult knowing that they lost is something that Bollant said in the post-game interview after the semifinal game. The team, he said, brought joy to the community.

Lantz Arena was packed with fans to watch the Panthers take on whoever they were playing. The student section was filled to the brim with students to cheer them on. Young girls and women who play basketball themselves got to watch the Panthers have a very successful season, hopefully inspiring them as players.

Sophomore forward, Taris Thornton, had family members that sat behind the press table in Lantz and one of them was her sister and I thought that it was great that she was able to watch her sister during one of the most successful seasons she has had as a Panther.

To see that joy and inspiration be deflated with just one single game, sucks, I am not going to lie. But I know that with the wonderful coaching staff and the up and coming players for the Panthers, another successful season is on the horizon.

When the Panthers make it to the OVC Tournament next season, I can assure you that I will be their biggest fan.

I am graduating in December of this year and I will be relishing in the fact that I can watch as a fan and not as a journalist.

Roll Thers.


Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]