The climb

Martina Lytle is one of the Georgetown College women's basketball seniors who endured two eight-win seasons and was rewarded with a trip to this year's NAIA tournament.

To say I’m proud of Georgetown College women’s basketball team is putting it mildly. There isn’t a big enough phrase to cover what this team has accomplished.

In my 35-plus years in athletics, the toughest road to hoe is the mental aspect — especially at this level. Unless you’ve been through it, you aren’t necessarily going to understand this. I put a qualifier in there, as being an athlete I can’t fully appreciate what the non-athlete sees or understands. So I don’t want to place upon a group a definitive remark when I have no way of walking in those shoes to garner that       perspective.

Yet I digress. These women have accomplished way more than a trip to the national tournament. That is a reward for what this group has done. Back-to-back seasons of eight wins and 20-plus losses converted into 20-plus wins, a semifinal appearance in the elite Mid-South Conference tournament and the first trip to nationals since 2014. Words don’t exist.

I’ve watched these young ladies, young women, be in battle night in and night out and experience the mental breakdown that comes with narrow defeat. There is no moral victory in those after a certain point. The only lesson is to break through that barrier. To shield one’s mind from the creeping thoughts of disappointment and cling to the assurance this game is yours.

This team has exploded through the mental block. It has been a beautiful mix of youth and veterans. At times the youth carried through, and at others the veteran calm was evident.

I wish there were more to bestow on this team, but what they can take with them is the certainty they are the change of a culture. This team does not have to deal with the mental game anymore. They can walk with the athletic gifts God granted them and rely solely on that.

Our seniors leave behind a legacy of success. A legacy of perseverance. A legacy that will be the foundation of many more years of 20-plus wins and trips to the national tournament.

Our returners will hold tight to what they’ve gleaned from this season and next year elevate Tiger women’s basketball.

A new batch of recruits will expand the horizons and never know the anguish of breaking the mental barrier.

“Proud” is an understatement. I’ve been with them from the highs of 2012 — first Fab Four appearance — to the valleys of eight-win seasons. Never once was I not proud of the way they carried themselves and represented Tiger Nation.

However, when you watch a team so decisively clear the toughest hurdle in athletics, it brings this passionate sports fan to tears. It moves me to remember why I love sports so much. So much good comes from the competition.

This team deserves every minute in Montana. This team should be decorated and celebrated. My hat is off to this women’s team and I will be passionately doing all a fan can do to bring about another game, another moment, another experience. Tune in to Tiger Sports and follow this team through a journey they so richly deserve.

Jenny Elker is sports information at Georgetown College, which played its first-round game in the NAIA national tournament Wednesday night (after press time) against Montana Western. 

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