Hogs n’ Roses

AW - hogs rosesBy Amy Wright

“Thank you for letting me smell the roses while I am still alive.” These were the words of former Arkansas Razorback running back and now Hall of Honoree, Madre Hill as he received his Hall of Honor induction award Friday night.

Of all words spoken that night, besides mine (wink, wink), rang so true to my competitive spirit as a person and former athlete.

Many people never get a chance to know what they meant to a business they worked for or even a group of people they were surrounded by for certain period of time. “The Nine,” as we, the nine inductees of the 2017 Arkansas Hall of Honor, were referred to all weekend, got a chance to feel the love of a program, a University and a state. And all of us got a chance to share it with our families.

For me, I was never the star of the LadyBack basketball program. I came into a program as a freshman one year after they went to the NCAA final four and was suppose to immediately fill another Hall of Honoree & All American, Christy Smiths’ shoes.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. I faltered at my position as a freshman and we ended up leaning on the true stars that year, Wendi Willits, Karyn Karlin & Sytia Messer. It was KK & Sytia’s last year at Arkansas. Seniors. I can only imagine their frustration with me, a freshman, to run a well established Arkansas team only to the WNIT championship one year after going to the NCAA final four.

At the time, I only felt the pain of losing. Now I understand the distraught of losing something you helped build to the national ranks and helplessly watch it decline.

The following year was preceded with another WNIT bid and Wendi again dominating at her position. Two things happened that summer: I got fed up with not meeting the expectations of my coaches and teammates and we got an Arkansas super star in Shameka Christon.

While Coach Blair would try to put my name into the ballots of All-SEC or a regional All-American, the truth is I wasn’t good enough. I was just a competitor and a really good player. And this little competitor found a way to juice up her teammates, the coaches and Arkansas fans every game for two straight years. This inner motivation to just meet expectations of a program, of coaches, of teammates, lead me to the Hall of Honor. It was never for me, it was for them.

amySo on Friday night, September 8th 2017, the Arkansas athletic department gave me a chance to relive the best four years of my life. Yes, there were ups and downs as an athlete, but I had the opportunity from day one to play! To play the game I love and in front of a crowd that reciprocated my passion and desire to win. I’m glad I realized (eventually) that it was me that was squandering a great opportunity at the University of Arkansas before it was too late.

In a voice quivering speech about my families, coaches, teammates and the Razorbacks, I made it through the night and was humbled with the pats on the back and thank you’s from Dean Weber (Arkansas Razorback Foundation) John McDonnell (Legendary Arkansas Track & Field coach) & fellow inductees Ken Hamlin (Razorback and NFL defense) & Jack O’Keefe (Razorback and PGA golfer). WOW!

The most meaningful words came from Scott Varady, a former Razorback athlete, now part of the foundation department that helped host the weekend event. “Amy, thank you so much for your words. You know, sometimes a program is in a dark place and you start to wonder, but you gave all the Razorbacks in the room life.”  Again, WOW!

So I got to smell the roses! Not only did I smell them this weekend. I picked them. I laid in them and I rolled around in them. Just the way a HOG should!

 

Coming Home

Ciera - AW title picBy Ciera Johnson

I started my freshman year at The University of Louisville, but things didn’t work out quite the way I wanted, so I made the decision to transfer. During the transfer process, I realized I wanted to come home, back to the State of Texas. So, I chose to continue my education and basketball career at Texas A&M University. I am so excited to be back home in the great State of Texas but also to be a part of a great University like Texas A&M.

There were quite a few factors that drew me to Texas A&M, but I think a major one is the family atmosphere. I know on the court the coaches can be extremely tough but off the court you can tell they genuinely care about us. I have never seen so many alumni come around and stay engaged with the program. The coaches make sure we take care of business and hold us accountable but they also take the time to get to know us as a person. They create relationships with us and gain our trust. For me personally, this is super important. If you show me you care about me, I am going to give my all to you. I can’t forget about my teammates. They made transferring in, so easy. They are so fun to be around but also handle their business.

Another big factor in me choosing to come to Aggieland was the education. I plan on graduating from the Mays School of Business, which is an excellent degree. One thing I think that separates Texas A&M from other Universities is the alumni network. The alumni are invested in the University and helping future Aggies succeed.

One thing that I truly like about Texas A&M is the traditions. I have never seen a school with so many but also dedicated to the traditions. So far, my favorites are the Aggie ring and the Yell Leaders. I think the Aggie ring is a great representation of what you have accomplished, but it’s also an immediate connection to other Aggies around the world. At first, I thought it was a little odd that Texas A&M didn’t have cheerleaders but the Yell Leaders began to grow on me. My first experience with the Yell Leaders was through the first ever Athlete’s Fish Camp. The Yell Leaders led us through some yells which was pretty fun. I think the traditions make the University more unified and create an environment of one big happy family.

I have been on campus for about 3 months now and Aggieland has been very good to me. I think Texas A&M is a good place for me to grow on and off the court. Coming home was one of the best decisions, I think I have ever made. I’M PROUD TO BE AN AGGIE!  Gig’em!!

Our First Fish Camp Experience

By Khaalia Hillsman

With all of the expected and required obligations to our sports, being a student-athlete can sometimes limit our opportunity to partake in certain activities and traditions – one of those traditions being Fish Camp. Usually when Fish Camp is happening we are either bound to school, our sport or we are taking extra time we have to see our family. This year, in large part because of the work of Coach Blair, our athletic department found a way to work around all the athlete’s schedules and gave us the opportunity to experience Fish Camp. And it is definitely something I won’t forget!

What is Fish Camp? Generally Fish Camp welcomes the Freshman class to Texas A&M each year by giving them the opportunity to have fun, make friends, and learn more about Texas A&M. When we get there, they split us into “camp” groups that includes upperclassmen counselors. The goal is that your camp share a special bond as you spend time getting to know one another, attending programs that highlight the opportunities and services available on campus and participating in Aggie Traditions such as Yell Practice, Aggie Muster, and Silver Taps.

When we first arrived, the different sports that were there had their team members split into two groups, green and yellow. I was part of the yellow group and our name changed from “Yellow Group” to “Yellow Squad” in a matter of minutes. Everyday when the groups would be together in the assembly hall, we would go back and forth representing our colors in yell and dance battles. This was one of the funniest (and loudest) parts of Fish Camp that brought us together and made people more comfortable with our new groups.

During our 3 day adventure at Fish Camp, we had the opportunity to really get familiarized with our school’s traditions, stories and basically everything that makes Texas A&M one of the best schools in the nation. As a senior, I was already very familiar with our school’s history and traditions; but the way our camp counselors represented themselves and showed the younger athletes how our school has created and celebrated all of our traditions was amazing to me. The counselors truly bleed Maroon and are so proud to be Aggies. I could literally see their positive energy towards our university trickling down to us as each day passed. It was truly special for me when our team would participate in school traditions such as the Aggie War Hymn, Yells and even learning the Spirit of Aggieland.

AA fish camp2Particularly with the newbies, they were so attentive and engaged with learning about each of the traditions. I think when the focus was on our more sacred traditions like Bonfire, Aggie Muster and Silver Taps, it really hit home for them. I didn’t see a dry eye in the room when those traditions were honored and I feel like that represented a transition from the perspective of just old traditions to holding a special place in their hearts and a new respect for our dedication to honoring the lives of our fallen Aggies. They hadn’t had a chance to be able to experience first-hand what we do here yet since they’ve only been here during the summer so I think being able to come to Fish Camp got them acquainted to our history and all the fun things we do here will be beneficial to them in the school environment.

For me, my favorite Aggie tradition is the Aggie Ring. As a student athlete at a premier university that A&M is, it is so hard to juggle sports and academics. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the degree of commitment it takes to excel in the classroom because I’m already heavily committed to my sport and I feel like one can’t excel without me holding back from the other. But the Aggie Ring is a physical representation of all the hard work, struggles and dedication that I’ve been able to balance along with being on an elite team. Yes, we get a degree which is also a physical representation of being able to complete college, but the Aggie ring isn’t just a symbol in regards to education, but it represents the unity of our family as well. Anyone who sees someone wearing that beautiful golden ring around their right ring finger, or on a chain around their neck, or anywhere else, knows they have come from a place of respect, selfless-service, integrity, loyalty, leadership and excellence. A place where our core values aren’t just implemented, but carried through during and long after you’re at Texas A&M.

Throughout our days at Fish Camp, it made me so grateful to be with such a great group of athletes. When we would participate we would do so with pride and joy for our university. We all sang, whooped and laughed together and were exposed to all the things that make Texas A&M so special. I could tell that everyone on our team was exposed to something new and loved learning about the traditions through the skits our counselors organized and performed. Even though we were divided into two groups (green and yellow), we still had the opportunity to come together, meet new people and just have fun as an Aggie Family.

AA fish camp1

An Assist: The Aggie Way

Aggie Assist HeaderBy The Aggie Coaching Staff

There is a quote by Mario Puzo:

“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.”

That loyalty is never more tested than in times of adversity.  The true family stands with each other during moments of difficulty.  And while we certainly pray that our family members are void of pain we know that suffering will come — and we know we will be there to lend a hand when it does — that is what defines family.

This week, one of our very own, Tori Scott Raven (’15) has lost her mother.  Her mother was the kind in which coaches dream of — always supporting our staff in our basketball decisions and being in the forefront when it came to Tori’s academics.  She stressed constantly that nothing was more important to Tori’s tenure as an Aggie than a quality education and a degree.  And with her mom’s motivational force, she achieved both.

The amazing story behind Tori and her mother is that their journey has never been easy.  The New Orleans family was decimated by Hurricane Katrina and was displaced often.  Still, with her mother’s support Tori is an Aggie graduate, married and mother of young baby boy.

As often happens, the children become the caretakers of parents and Tori is now faced with the dilemma of financing her mother’s funeral.  It’s a daunting task as you can imagine and must be done while grieving.

Through the efforts of our athletic department and compliance office, we have been able to create a method in which we can assist Tori — The Aggie Way.

There are two ways to help:

  1. Mail a check with a note that funds are to assist Tori Scott to the:

12th Man Foundation,

P.O. Box 2800

College Station, TX 77841-2800

  1. Or you can make a credit card payment by calling the 12th Man Foundation at 979-846-8892 and explain that you want to make a contribution to Tori Scott’s mother’s expenses.

We have an Aggie in need — please consider making a donation regardless of size.  After all, it’s The Aggie Way!

 

Goodbye Teammates

GOODBYE TEAMMATES HEADER PICBy Curtyce Knox

How Do I Say Goodbye….

The hardest thing for me to do this year is to say goodbye to the team we’ve built this year because more than a team we have been and will continue to be a family.  Each of you young ladies I consider my sisters. We have lifted one another up and been there for each other.  My team has made parenting so easy for me and I truly appreciate each one of “Haven’s aunties” for remaining by my side and helping me through this year and a half with her. I really don’t know what I would do without your love and support of my daughter. With the assistance of this team, our coaches and the staff I have had the opportunity to be successful on and off the court.  The support and strength of this team (my sisters) is second to none and I wouldn’t trade any of you for anyone else. Haven is the luckiest little girl to have so many beautiful, strong, athletic, funny, and ………very tall aunties!

Because of you I have a legacy that I can share with my daughter, with you guys (my sisters) we have proved that Texas A&M Women’s Basketball is truly a contender and that with good coaches, dedication and teamwork we could be just as successful as any other team.  And now, without my sisters, I will build on what I learned this year.  I will remember the hard work we put in and the adversity we overcame as a team and use that knowledge to assist me in achieving my goals on the next level knowing one day I will play with or against each of them…..so what I want to say to my sisters is GOODBYE FOR NOW………

P. S.  It was so good to have you there this weekend during the WNBA Combine, what you ladies do for me means the world to me!  I Love You All!!!

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Goodbye Coaching Staff

GOODBYE STAFF HEADER PICBy Taylor Cooper

I remember getting my first phone call from Coach Blair. There was something in his voice when he talked about the game of basketball that drew me in. He understood the X’s and O’s. We talked about his time at Arkansas and coaching my high school coach Wendi Willits, who he says is “the best pure shooter” he has ever coached. He talked about the game with passion, reminding me of a version of myself. I was so star-struck after I hung up the phone. Here I was getting a phone call from Gary Blair, a man who had just been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and won a National Championship in 2011. This man wanted me to play for him at Texas A&M University. The history and tradition behind the 12th man and everything Aggies stand for was something I wanted to be a part of.  I always knew I wanted to be a basketball coach, so why not learn from the best?

My first year at A&M was a redshirt year for me. I was a transfer so I was only allowed to practice and go through 6 AM preseason workouts. I could not participate in games. This was a hard year for me but I embraced the opportunity to see the game from a different perspective. I spent most of that time playing with our men’s practice squad against my teammates helping them prepare for games.

My next two years, I battled two major shoulder injuries. The first year I dislocated my right shoulder and tore my labrum midway through the season during a practice. I decided to keep playing and put off surgery until after the season was over. The next year I dislocated my left shoulder — same exact injury, just different arm and different location. The recovery for these surgeries lasted about 6 months each, so I got to spend majority of my time with Radar. What would I have done without him? Everyone knows who Radar is, I mean they should… he and Jesus went to school together. He took me to all of my medical appointments, where he and Dr. Bramhal would always joke about how I have the second highest amount of anchors (18 screws) in my shoulders than any other athlete he’s ever done, including the football team.

IMG_6757.JPGDuring my red shirt year and while I was recovering through my injuries, I also spent a lot of time with Coach Jen Jones, who is our strength and conditioning coach. My first year here I literally thought she was going to kill me…LOL. The conditioning and weights were on a different level than what I was used too, but she was always positive and pushing us to be the best that we could be. It’s easy to say that now. What she put our team and I through was grueling. I did not realize how much I appreciated her until now. She was someone I could go to if I felt like I was ever struggling with my faith, and she also set up our community service. She emphasized and showed us how important it was to give back and to put others before ourselves.

COOP AMYSomeone else who doesn’t get enough credit is Coach Wright. Everyone always loves reading about us signing top recruits but they don’t understand how much hard work and time is put into those moments. She is a work horse behind the scenes. The phone calls, letters, emails, time on the road, flying to watch kids play, and the amount of hours she spends in the gym as well as watching film. I’m convinced that she stays busy 24/7. She cares about this program and does everything she can to try to bring in the best, year in and year out. If I could take away one thing that learned one thing from her, it wouldn’t be anything that she has said to me over the years even though a lot of that has helped me become better as a player; it would be through her actions. She showed me that it’s ok to do all the dirty work and not necessarily get the credit or be in the spotlight for all of it.

COOP KELLYThe next one I want to talk about is Coach Bond. She has always been someone that I have admired. On the basketball court Coach Bond is an offensive genius. She picks apart and exploits mismatches against every team that we face; the woman knows what she is doing. However, off the court she is a wife and a mother to her beautiful baby girl Lauryn. She treated me like I was her own daughter. If I was sick she would always make some of her chicken noodle soup and bring it to me. If I was home sick, needed to talk about school or relationship advice she was always there for me, no matter what it was. To understand her background and see the strong successful woman that she has made herself into makes me want to do the same. She knows how to balance being one of the top assistant coaches in the country and having a family by doing things the right way, the Aggie Way.

COOP GBThe next one is Coach Blair, one of my favorite people in the game of basketball. I’m not going to lie and say that my years of playing here were perfect. Anyone who has played for Coach Blair knows that he is a hard person to play for. He knows so much about the game and he expects us to know it too. One of his biggest pet peeves is what he calls “dumb dumb plays”. These are plays in practice or games that show your lack of basketball IQ.  He has so much respect for the game that stuff like that gets under his skin. He knows how to have fun with it though. He’s an old school guy so some of our girls don’t get his jokes but believe me, he is hilarious. One of the things that I have always respected him for is how involved he is in the community and working with special needs kids. Those are things that aren’t in his job description but he does it anyway because he cares — just like he cares about every kid he coaches. He is also really big on academics, which is why every player he has coached that finished school at Texas A&M has graduated. One of the biggest takeaways that I have learned  from him is to not take any shortcuts if you want to be successful.

Everyone knows who I saved for last, Coach Starkey. He and his wife Mrs. Sherie were my second set of parents away from home. I actually have my own room at their house  – LOL (for my rehab stints or when I wasn’t feeling well). Although I am probably the favorite now instead of him in his own house, I was blessed to have such an amazing role model and mentor at the same time. He cared about my life outside of basketball while simultaneously oozing out information and cool stories of past players and coaches he’s worked with on a daily basis.  One of the things that stood out to me was how important his relationships are with people. Coach Starkey showed me what it means to truly care about your players and is one of the main reasons that I am going to get into coaching. He doesn’t just talk the talk he walks the walk. One of his favorite quotes he would put on our scouting reports was “It’s not the will to win; it’s the will to prepare to win that is important.” I have learned so much about the game of basketball and how to prepare for games by just being around him. He is a detail-orientated guy and it’s the little things that make a difference. He has been a father figure to me and will always hold a special place in my heart.

My time at Texas A&M has been the best four years of my life. I not only became a better basketball player but more importantly a better woman. Nothing came easy to me and for that I am grateful. I was taught patience and hard work while at the same time having to earn everything that I was given.  Now I feel like I am prepared for life after basketball. Thank you to the fans, the 12th Man, my teammates/sisters, and a big thanks to my coaches. They have been role models to me, through the good and the bad, and I have learned every step along the way.

 

Goodbye Aggieland

GOODBYE HEADER

By Alyssa Michalke

Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, and it’s challenging for a number of reasons. I’ve never been great with words, so I find it difficult to string together a group of words and phrases that accurately describe the emotions I’ve felt, the experiences I’ve had, the memories I’ve made, and the impact a certain person or place has had on my life. That short, two-syllable word serves as the closing statement in a chapter of my life, and as I abruptly realize the end is just around the corner, a wave of emotions hit me hard. Couple all of that with the uncertainty of entering a new phase in my life as I leave the comfortable familiarity of College Station and Aggieland, and it’s easier to understand why I dread saying goodbye.

Bidding farewell to a place that means so much to me is much more difficult than I ever anticipated. Aggieland has become a second home to me over the past five years, although it took the better part of two years for me to think of College Station in that way. Texas A&M was not at the top of my “dream college” list, and although my mom convinced me to don the maroon and white, I spent the summer leading up to my first fall semester questioning my decision. After school began and the stress from multiple areas of my college life began to mount, I wondered whether I had made the right decision. Although College Station was only ninety-odd miles from my hometown, those ninety miles felt more like a thousand. On the rare occasion I was able to go home for a weekend during my freshman year, I dreaded the hour and forty-five minute drive back to Aggieland. I left at the last possible minute every Sunday afternoon, reluctant to leave the quiet, relaxing town of Schulenburg to return to exams, stress, and demands from various sources.

There were multiple times I considered dropping out of the Corps and transferring to another college within the Texas A&M system. However, I always ended up putting off the paperwork to the next week, and inevitably, something would go well during that week, so I would shove the paperwork to the bottom of my to-do list as I survived another week in College Station. Ever so slowly, Aggieland was growing on me.

As I began my sophomore year, I had a different outlook on life as a whole, and more specifically, on my time in college. During my freshman year, I took each day for granted, and lamented when I was assigned more homework or my upperclassmen in the Corps held me to a higher standard than I thought was fair. With a year of college behind me and a little more maturity, I now approached each day as a privilege, an opportunity that relatively few people in this world have. I challenged myself to improve physically, mentally, and spiritually each and every day, not just for my own personal benefit, but in the hopes that my personal development would positively impact my fellow cadets and classmates. My love for Aggieland grew exponentially throughout my sophomore, junior, senior, and fifth year here at Texas A&M as I developed a greater understanding of what immense impact this university has on the world, and an appreciation for all that it has done for so many people.

Although I have a few short weeks left here in Aggieland, it’s time to start saying goodbye and thank you to a place that has given me more than I could have ever imagined.

ALBRITTON TOWERFirst and foremost, goodbye to The Quad, a place that served as my home for arguably the most challenging, yet rewarding, four years of my life. I saw The Quad at 5:45 every morning as we began the day with physical training or military inspections, at 6:30 every evening as we rendered honors to our nation’s colors before eating dinner, and at 10:30 at night on the rare occasion we held Echo Taps to honor a fallen cadet. I’ve run around The Quad with a rifle in my hands and boots on my feet, I’ve marched around it with my fellow cadets as we first learned, and then taught, proper marching procedures, and I’ve met some outstanding individuals while walking to and from class. I’ve had many late-night and early-morning meetings with some of the hardest-working and passionate people I have ever met, and despite the lack of sleep and their busy schedules, their commitment to excellence and willingness to sacrifice their time and energy to further develop those around them never ceased to amaze me. The Quad will always hold a special place in my heart.

Goodbye to all the campus landmarks that have come to hold special meanings for me. There’s Duncan Field where our sophomores awarded us freshmen our Corps Brass at the end of a rigorous training session. There’s Blocker and the Mitchel Physics Building, where I often questioned my decision to become an engineer after a long, complicated lecture or grueling exam. There’s Simpson Drill Field where we played sports on Friday afternoons, and where I walked my Final Review in a cadet uniform. There’s the tunnel by West Campus Garage and the tunnel by Albritton Bell Tower where we conducted numerous physical training sessions, and where I came to truly hate those small hills and the sprint workouts devised by our upperclassmen. There’s Wehner on West Campus, where the Squad Platoon within the Ross Volunteer Company would practice rifle drill, spinning and tossing those practice rifles until our hands were bruised and numb. There’s Academic Plaza where I stood on multiple Tuesday nights to honor a fellow Aggie who left us too soon, where cadets hold a salute during the 21-gun salute and rendition of “Taps,” and Albritton Bell Tower tolls in memory of those Aggies we lost. There’s Reed Arena, where I took numerous physical fitness tests while in the Corps, attended four campus Musters, and had the privilege to practice and play alongside a group of amazing young ladies as a member of the Aggie basketball team. And finally, there’s Bonfire Memorial and an engraving of “The Last Corps Trip,” where I would go late at night to clear my head when something was troubling me. Whenever I pass these places on campus, these landmarks bring to mind all the incredible experiences I’ve had during my time as a student.

BONFIRE MEMORIALGoodbye to all the friends and mentors I’ve had while in Aggieland. I could write a short novel with the names of all that have helped and supported me over these past five years. You have challenged me to reach my full potential; you have taught me the tough lessons that I needed to learn, even though there were times I thought I knew it all; you have been a source of wisdom and advice when I was unsure where to go or what to do; you have shown me what true leadership, selfless service, commitment, and hard work look like; you helped me grow and develop from an anxious, quiet freshman into a strong, confident young woman that I never knew had the potential to exist. I can’t thank all of you enough for all that you have done for me, as my time in Aggieland wouldn’t have been near as special without you. As much as certain organizations and places on campus mean to me, it’s truly the people, and the Aggie spirit within them, that makes those other things so special.

And finally, Aggieland, thank you.

Thank you for all of the love you have shown me, even when I wasn’t sure College Station was the place I needed to be.

Thank you for introducing me to a group of people so special, so selfless, and so passionate, all of whom left a profound impact on my life.

Thank you for giving me another place to call home and blessing me with a huge extended family that I know I can call upon in the future if I’m ever in need.

Thank you for providing me five years’ worth of memories and experiences that I will look back on with fondness as I recall the people and events that made my time here so amazing.

Thank you for the best five years I could have asked for. I pray every night that I have worked hard enough and given back to Texas A&M, Aggieland, and all of those people I’ve come to know during my time here in return for all that this university and community has given me. Although I may be saying goodbye to my time in Aggieland as a student, I know that many more chapters in my life will still contain Aggieland, at the very least in remembrance and gratitude for all this amazing community has done for and meant to me.

Goodbye, Aggieland…and thank you. For everything.