Home / Opinions / Trailblazers: My travels with the Lady Blazers

Trailblazers: My travels with the Lady Blazers

For those of you who are unaware, outside of my duties as sports editor for The Spectator, I have a job with my first love: sports commentary. Last November, I was afforded an opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do: travel with our basketball programs as their road radio play-by-play commentator.

While I got to know both basketball programs well, this article outlines the travels with VSU’s women’s basketball program, as I traveled with them the most.

But before we take a deep dive into the Lady Blazers, I wanted to give a shout out to our men’s basketball program for allowing me to work with them this season as well. From Coach Mike Helfer all the way down to the players on the court, I appreciate you all for making me feel like I was a part of the team.

Now for those of you who don’t know, our Lady Blazers had one of best seasons in program history, but I can remember a time when it looked like it may not be the 30-win season we ended up seeing.

I remember being on our first road trip where the Lady Blazers took on their first conference opponent, the Lee University Flames.

Short a player, combined with Molly Hampton having a great game, we lost a close one in our conference opener.

For those of you that know Head Coach Deandra Schirmer, or Coach D as many call her, you know that she loves the game of basketball and no one rivals her level of passion for her job.

That passion was evident at times, as I’m sure some Gulf South Conference officials could attest too, but there was always one thing certain: she will fight for her ladies no matter the situation.

I remember sitting at the scorer’s table thinking to myself which questions I should ask, but thankfully, Coach D was a pro. She helped me get through my first on the air interview, something I got better at as the season progressed.

One thing I will say that I loved about Coach D was that she could coach a passionate 40-minute game, and then come over to the scores table with me and have a great conversation with me about the game like she was causally spectating the event.

Another thing I learned on these road trips was that the only person that could talk as much as me was Coach D–and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Heck, she’d be the first to tell you. During one of our road trips to Tennessee she told me how glad she was to have someone who could gab with her for these long trips.

And one of those long trips happened to be the middle of December when we traveled to West Tennessee to take on Christian Brothers and Union.

While in Memphis we got to do two really cool things. Firstly, we got to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. museum at the Lorraine Hotel where he was assassinated.

Secondly, and on a much lighter note, we got to have some authentic Memphis BBQ, something that I personally have always wanted to try.

After history, basketball and BBQ in Memphis, I remember thinking, “Union may have us,” as I was working on my game notes for our next game while we traveled east to Jackson, Tennessee.

All I can say is: boy was I wrong.

We came out of the game on fire, and as I recall, the only time we trailed in that game was when we were down 3-2 in the first minute of play.

Now keep in mind, up until this point in time the Union Bulldogs were undefeated and were a top five ranked team in the country at that time. However, I personally believe the Lady Blazers made the most of people underestimating them, as we went on to win by double digits.

That was the moment I realized, this team was legit. I mean good enough to take on anyone, because you don’t just travel 10 hours to take on a top five team on the road and beat them by double digits by luck, that means you’ve got something special.

After Christmas break, we were back on the road again, this time to the rocket city of Huntsville to take on the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.

I can remember a humorous moment when Coach D forgot to come give her post-game interview after their win and followed that up by making a b-line for me after the conclusion of our next game against West Alabama.

I also remember my interactions with the players, which I still hold very dearly to me.

One of our forwards Victoria Ikenasio, or V as she likes to be called, would always be hyping everybody up. You never saw her frown, not even once.

I can recall a game this past season where she took a charge hard to the floor, and throughout the duration of hitting the floor and bouncing right back up, she was grinning from ear to ear.

I can recall being on the bus from Huntsville to Livingston and V asking me if I saw something on SportsCenter. Before we knew it, three hours later, we had talked about everything under the sun.

Our first road trip was such an interesting trip, as it set the tone for the season.

As far as the travel went, it was a great opportunity to get to see the gulf south conference.

As someone who likes to travel and talk about sports, I was in hog heaven on some of these trips.

Now some of them were long, anyone who says a nine-hour bus ride to Mississippi is a breeze would be a liar. And if you’ve never been, I can confirm, it is as flat as they say it is.

I can remember chatting with our bus drivers, trying to keep them company on the long ride as well.

Our Mississippi trip was quite the show, for more reasons than one.

I can remember the morning of our game, we ended up at a little ma and pa coffee shop for breakfast, and we as a team cleaned out the sausage, egg and cheese biscuits.

I can remember the first half with Delta State being very close, and subconsciously thinking to myself, “Are we going to lose?”

The moment I knew we were going to win that game was when one of my top three favorite moments from this season occurred. The Lady Blazers had just gone on a run and found themselves up by five, when India Jordan got the missed DSU shot and started moving fast in transition. She had a chance at a layup but stopped at the top of the arch and absolutely sunk a three pointer before doing a patting hand motion to signify that she had hit a shot on the defender.

It was moments like these that I got to sit and enjoy, and think to myself, “How lucky am I to get paid for this?”

The quick trip to Pensacola was short but eventful, nonetheless.

Our Assistant coach Alexis Uffmann’s mom surprised us at our hotel, and even helped us at the team participated in their “Family Friday” event, which that week was Family Feud.

The next day, even after being down double digits in the first quarter, our ladies found a way to come out with a victory against West Florida.

Our last trip was probably our best, as we started the trip facing Montevallo, who was a solid team this year.

We went on to win that game by a lot, and it was great to see.

I even remember our last game together; when we traveled to Montgomery to take on Auburn University in Montgomery, we went on to win in convincing fashion as well.

This game was special however, and it wasn’t even something that happened on the court, it was something that happened in our post-game interview.

As a rule, I always ask Coach D and Coach Helfer “Is there anything you’d like to say to Blazer Nation coach?” And normally Coach D would shout out to the Blazer faithful, say “Hi” to her mom, but this night it was a little different.

She told all those listening back home how much she enjoyed having me on all these long roads trips, and she hoped it wouldn’t be the last time we got to travel with one another.

In a bit of foreshadowing, it would turn out that would be our final road trip.

I can remember being on the court at the Complex after their loss to Nova Southeastern, and there wasn’t a dry eye on the court. I remember as soon as she got done with her post-game interview, Coach D came up to me and gave me a hug, as we both fought off tears.

I remember going up to as many of the Lady Blazers as I could to console them after a heartbreaking loss, and you could just feel their heartbreak.

But there was one thing I’ll always remember about that post game, it was V smiling on the front bleacher. Even through the heartache of defeat, a great season coming to a premature end, she still stayed positive through it all, and that was something that each and every member of this squad was taught to do.

Coach D taught me, along with every player or coach in her staff, the phrase, “Be like a duck.”

It refers to the fact that while you may be pedaling as fast as you can under the surface, above the surface, you look calm, cool and collected.

It was a lesson for the game of basketball, but more importantly, it was a lesson for the game of Life.

Nonetheless, this was one of the best women’s college basketball teams ever assembled.

Just a recap, 23-1 in conference play, 26-1 if you count the conference tournament, they finished the year 30-3, they got to host the south region for the NCAA tournament, and set the new program win streak record at 27 in a row.

I have no doubt in my mind this team was made up of Trail Blazers, and I was just glad I got to come along for the ride.

Written by Jack Calhoun, Sports Editor. Photo courtesy of VSU.

Check Also

VSUPD Crime Blotter: Rumors and Suspicious Activity

Yik Yak users create sexual rumors on VSU campus  On April 3, 2024, at approximately ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *