This past weekend, Saint Joseph's graduate student Avery Marz attended the 2019 Women's Basketball Final Four. The recipient of the USBWA's 2018 Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award at last year's Final Four, Marz helped present this year's award and also documented her experience for Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member Mel Greenberg's site, womhoops.blogspot.com. This article was originally published on April 10, 2019, and appears here with the site owner's permission.
By Avery Marz
TAMPA — Taking time to reflect on the Women's Final Four I struggled with what my major takeaway was from such an eventful weekend.
This year was my second trip to the Final Four and it was up against high standards of last year's trip in Columbus.
To remind you, or for those who do not know, there were two buzzer beaters in that one.
Yet, I write this piece because of how easily my expectations were not only met, but elevated.
The Final Four is the summation of a tournament that is unlike any other, even that of the Men's Final Four.
Our Final Four is different.
With such a huge event, focus and attention are scarce commodities which are tempted to be swallowed up by press conferences, media engagements and interviews.
Making the game so polarized and analyzed before the ball even tips is a result.
With so much noise around our game at this Final Four, I want to highlight how powerful the women's basketball community has become.
More clearly, I'm here to argue that all this noise is a good thing, maybe even great.
Because regardless of the noise, the games spoke for themselves, even if you tuned in to see something else.
It's simple. The women's game won't be ignored. Our fans won't allow it.
Every Uber I took, and I took a lot this weekend due to my hotel being outside of the city, each driver knew about the tournament and was amazed with the traffic that came with it.
They all raved about how many fans they've seen in town. That there was no comparison to any hockey game or event that had taken place prior.
This was no surprise to me.
We show up because our game is worth it.
And here goes my elevator pitch.
You love drama? Watch our game.
What's a bigger plot twist than Arike Ogunbowale hitting a game winner one year and then missing a crucial foul shot the next year?
You love dancing? Tune in to watch Muffet McGraw doing the jig after winning the semifinal game.
You love fashion? Kim Mulkey came ready with vibrant game day suits.
This is who we are as women.
Being women is our greatest challenge and our greatest gift. We are emotional. We are fighters. We are talented. Point me to a Netflix show with these things. I'll wait.
Women's basketball is special because our storylines are much bigger than the game.
Take a moment to reflect on Lauren Cox's finale this season.
How humbling and inspiring to see her make her way back on the bench from an apparently severe knee injury to support her team.
To be rewarded with not only a Championship, that she helped bring to Baylor, but the embrace and love from her teammates.
I point out love, because that's what was shown when Kalani Brown hustled over to her teammate. And this goes for women's basketball period.
Happily, we learned she won't require surgery.
We have some amazing players playing the game we love.
Mature young ladies that can not only hoop, but act as role models.
Women's basketball is truly passionate about the success of others.
When you dream of covering women's basketball, you live for a moment that I had this Final Four.
A security guard watching the game, “These girls can really hoop.”
Yes, they can.
How many times do we need to say it?
I guarantee those who stumble across our game won't ever go back.
So, forget the comments on Instagram like “get in the kitchen” and remember the women's basketball community is stronger than any troll.
We got each other's back.
We know what we have, and with a 11% rise in viewership, I think other people are starting to see it too.
There isn't one thing I would take away from our game.
We are women, this is true. Since when was this a bad thing?
Despite outsiders wanting to comment on our looks or where we should be instead of on the court, I enjoy watching the battles, the rivalries, the hairstyles, the lashes.
Did you see the Baylor players had their earrings in before one single pic was taken, that's talent!
The whole atmosphere here in Tampa was thrilling.
The National Anthem was astonishing, which was sung by a 10-year-old, Liamani Segura, a poised child destined for something great.
A prime example of whom we as women can empower through our actions and friendship.
The sea of the different color greens, and some UConn blue, still in attendance for the final because at the end of the day they just love the game.
At the convention center, coaches like Nadine Domond making dribbling “fun” again, by highlighting its undeniable partnership with rhythm.
You either have it or you don't.
In doing so, they share their own tapped knowledge solely because they want others to benefit off their prior successes.
LaChina Robinson's ESPNW live show and podcast with greats like Sue Bird and Cheryl Miller.
To the next generation in Asia Durr and Megan Gustafson.
Speaking of what's next, the draft.
Let's tune in, let's tweet about it, let's embrace the next generation who have made the final four so competitive.
We can't wait until the next Final Four in New Orleans to promote the growth of our game.
If we invest in them now, their games will continue to shine a light on how great our sport is.
They are deserving of a draft night like the men. Let's make it happen.