I wanted to devote my space and time this week to what happened at Grace College in Winona Lake last week.

Let me start by saying, geographically, Grace College is the best place in the country to have this tournament. When you get a map out and see how the schools in the NCCAA are scattered throughout America, Kosciusko County is far enough west but not too far, equidistant from north-to-south.

The Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center is beautiful and gives players, coaches and fans the feeling that they are playing in a national championship tournament—which they are.

Some of the teams in this year’s event had not been here before, and they mentioned from the time they walked out for their shoot-arounds Tuesday until they boarded their vehicle to head back to their campus how impressed they were with the venue.

And, of course, the people at Grace (led by Chad Briscoe and Josh Neuhart) have proven over and over again that they know what they are doing when it comes to running these tournaments. You never hear anyone complain about the condition of their locker room, about getting cheated out of so much as a single second of their precious 30-minute shoot-around time.

And it needs to be mentioned that the dozens and dozens of other people involved in making the whole thing roll are essential to its ultimate success. I am thinking of the Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau. I am thinking about the college students who work the concession stands and take tickets. I am thinking about the local schools who allowed teams to practice in their gymnasiums.

So what will I remember about this year?

I was working last week. My job was to broadcast all 12 of the women’s games for the week on the live internet channel. However, it would be totally wrong for me not to mention the energy and drama of the entire men’s tournament. Most of the games were close. A couple of them were decided by clutch shots in the waning seconds.

It was terrific theatre.

The women’s tournament was very different.

Nine of the 12 games were decided by exactly nine points. None were closer than that.

But, do not be fooled by that. Although that bracket didn’t leave anyone thinking about the greatest finishes of all time, but in the end it gave us the week’s finest moment.

The women’s tournament started with Oakland City (IN) trailing last year’s runner up from Northwestern (MN) by 16 at halftime, only to completely turn the game around and win 13.

There was the senior forward from the champs from Southwestern Christian of Oklahoma. Thamires Andrade is from Brazil, and she scored 63 points in three games last year in helping her team to a third-place finish.

All she did this year was lead them to the title with 30 against Grace in the quarterfinals, 22 against Asbury in the semifinals and 29 against Oakland City in the final—that’s 81 points. It’s not a record but it was special, and so is she.

Megan Roberts left her mark on Winona Lake. The senior from Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, led her team to the final last year, but lost in both of their first two games last week. It was stunning for sure, even given the general consensus that the quality of the field meant some good teams were going to leave Winona Lake with a 1-2 or 0-3 record. She, however, was tremendous again.

Roberts took the court with her teammates in that final game with more than just salvaging their last game of the season on their minds.

Their teammate, senior Brooklyn DeKam, had torn her ACL in the days leading up to their first game of the season.

Her career was over for her senior season began.

Word filtered up to my broadcast location that DeKam was dressed and planned to start. My eyes got pretty wide when I heard that, to be honest.

Then I heard the rest of the story.

The coaches from Northwestern and Columbia International communicated before the game, and they devised a plan that none of those who watched it unfold will ever forget.

Columbia International won the tip (Northwestern didn’t try) and scored a layup. At the other end DeKam was slowly matriculating toward the north basket. She was moving very slowly. The look on her face was half smile, half grimace.

As they got the ball to her, and she scored, the look on everyone else’s face was half joy, half tears. It didn’t matter what colors you were wearing or if you cared who won or not.

She had been so valuable to the Northwestern program. Now, in their final game and hers, they were giving her a keepsake to remind her forever just how much.

Funny isn’t it? The most important moment in the minds of hearts of everyone involved happened in the seventh place game.

Only in March, and only in Indiana.  

God bless you, NCCAA. I hope your tournaments always end here.