There are 600 ways to win….and counting.
But leave it to your lone senior, who will commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army in June, to succinctly deliver the message of the bottom line.
“We knew in the back of our minds that this was a special game, but what we were really competing for was first place,” said forward Teal Reynolds. “It’s a game of runs. We knew we had to keep valuing each possession we had…we won it at the free throw line, where we’ve been struggling.”
How special? Far removed from her first career win, a 64-51 victory over Christopher Newport in late 1982, Randolph-Macon head women’s basketball coach Carroll LaHaye left Turner Gymnasium at Lynchburg College Saturday the owner of 600 triumphs after her young Yellow Jackets, armed with double motivation, knocked off the Hornets 71-59 to draw into a three-way tie with Lynchburg and Guilford in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).
LaHaye, when asked about the approaching milestone before the season, said she wanted to fanfare, no countdowns, believing that the hoopla surrounding her 500th win in February, 2012 put undue pressure on her players that season. Knowing how young this year’s version of the Yellow Jackets are, she wished, rightfully so, not to repeat that struggle.
But for Randolph-Macon this season, their youth may be a blessing in disguise. The sheer joy of getting Coach her latest milestone win was best described by the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore Kelly Williams, who scored 35 points and grabbed 15 boards in the win.
“I know Coach LaHaye’s not going to forget her 600th in Lynchburg,” Williams said. “Coach wanted us to focus more on knocking off the number one team, but I can tell you, every time we huddled up, we said let’s do this for Coach LaHaye. 600th win at Lynchburg? That’s going to be a big deal.”
It was the Hornets who ended the Yellow Jackets’ season last year in the ODAC Championship Semifinal Round 69-60. Put all the ingredients together, and the fearless Yellow Jackets were ready to deliver.
After a deadlocked first period, Randolph-Macon took its first big advantage on an 8-0 run, prompting a Hornets timeout at 7:12 left in the half leading 23-16. After cutting the margin down to five, Lynchburg watched Randolph-Macon go on another run, this time 10-1 in just less than two minutes, punctuated by an And One from Jayla Wade for a 36-23 lead with 2:44 to the break.
The Yellow Jackets kept most of the lead intact, taking a 38-28 advantage to the locker room, but knowing in the back of their minds that Lynchburg would adjust, and give them their best shot. The Hornets did, beginning the second half on a 10-0 run to erase the Randolph-Macon lead, disrupting the Yellow Jacket offense by moving their interior players to the perimeter, making it difficult for guards like Wade, Kelsey Wisner, Elise Knoblach and Becca Arrington to call and run plays.
“You can’t take them for granted, a ten-point lead is nothing for a team as competitive as they are. They were outhustling us. They just wanted it. They didn’t fold,” LaHaye noted of the Hornet comeback.
The team was diligently seeking a solution, all the while, Williams preached patience to herself down low.
“They throw that 1-3-1 zone on you, and that’s what they beat us with last year,” Williams explained. “You have to know as a post player that this may not be your opportunity to score, but you can be there for the rebound, be there on the back side. Eventually, they’re going to click up there, and we’re going to break it. That’s what I keep telling myself.”
Holding Williams to four points in the third quarter, and forcing seven of Randolph-Macon’s eighteen turnovers in the frame, Lynchburg drew within two at 48-46 entering the fourth period. But the dam broke midway through the final stanza as Arrington hit a free throw to tie the game at 51-51, Wisner hit a jumper, then Williams, back to work in the paint, got a basket up the lead to four. Williams would score twelve points down the stretch.
At 3:31 left, Olivia DeFrancesco hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to three at 61-58, but Williams responded with a pair of baskets, and Lynchburg never drew within a possession again. The Yellow Jackets made eight of ten free throws over the last four and a half minutes, and, as the final minute began, the faithful Randolph-Macon fans who made the trip to Lynchburg, hoping to witness history, began to celebrate.
As the final horn sounded, the players immediately ran to the bench, grabbing pieces of paper with “600” boldly printed on them, holding them high in the air. LaHaye turned and waved to the fans, then quickly got her team ready for the traditional postgame handshake. The Yellow Jackets grew up some more before their coach’s eyes with the 21-9 run to finish the game.
“I’m pretty pleased with our composure down the stretch,” LaHaye noted.
The Yellow Jackets now have to be careful to make sure that this win doesn’t become the peak of their season. With February on the horizon, and the league’s regular season just halfway complete, there is a lot of work to be done. But if this team allowed the historic nature of Saturday’s game to motivate them rather than scare them, they’ve already proven they can be ready for whatever the next challenge will be.
And, as every coach will tell you, that next challenge is the next opponent. But first, LaHaye took time to reflect on 600 wins, in this, her 36th season in Ashland, noting her success has come from every woman ever to don a Randolph-Macon uniform, proud of the unique nature of her current team.
“This is kind of a secretive team. They’re not loud or boisterous. When you come and watch our pregame warm-up, they’re not even fired up, no yelling or nothing,” LaHaye explained. “Then they go out and perform. They are secretly silent. I was happy with that, because I didn’t want to make a big deal. They played their hearts out today, but I hope they played more so for themselves than for me.”
With the passing of the founder of Randolph-Macon women’s athletics, Rachel Anderson, last July, and her posthumous induction into the college’s Hall of Fame in October, you now find Anderson’s torch ablaze in the eyes of LaHaye, who is filled with gratitude for the opportunity that Randolph-Macon, and Anderson, gave her, a generation ago.
“I could not have accomplished this had Randolph-Macon not believed in me…and be satisfied in the direction that the program is going,” LaHaye stated. “When the college made the decision to support the program, give us the resources and everything, the program took off, and I’m a great testimony for that.”
LaHaye is now the 59th coach in the history of NCAA women’s basketball to earn 600 victories, is 17th all-time among Division III coaches, and 30th in most wins among active coaches across all NCAA divisions. Saturday’s “Back To The Hive” event, the annual reunion of program alumni at Crenshaw Gymnasium, will celebrate these accomplishments, while LaHaye and her Yellow Jackets silently prepare for another win, this time against Roanoke, at 2pm.