Adorning the wall behind the Stephens College bench on Saturday were 19 sheets of white computer paper covered in colorful, hand-drawn letters that read, “We love Dane Pavlovich.”
Stars basketball coach Dane Pavlovich first saw the sign Saturday morning when he walked across the stage to receive his master's degree in business administration from Stephens College. His players hadn't told Pavlovich they were going to come to his graduation ceremony at the Kimball Ballroom of Lela Raney Wood Hall.
Pavlovich was so surprised and touched by the gesture, he couldn't look at his players.
"It was a great moment. And it really shows what a great group of girls we have," Pavlovich said.
Later that night, they gave him a 64-59 win over Westminster College in a nail-biting game at Silverthorne Arena.
The Stars were first on the scoreboard and held an early but short-lived lead in the first half. Westminster used its height advantage to attack the boards and pull ahead. Stephens struggled defensively, committed 11 turnovers and went 6-of-13 from the free-throw line. But key three-pointers from Stephens' guards kept the gap close, and the Stars ended the half with a two-point lead.
The lead continued to swap hands in the second half with neither side gaining more than a three-point lead. That is, until Stephens guard Kerri Shanks sank a three-pointer with one minute remaining in the game.
Westminster failed to score on its final possession and fouled Shanks out of frustration as she headed down the court. The senior guard secured the win for Stephens with two free throws.
"It was such a relief to know that we finally had a lead on them," Shanks said after a pause to search for words to describe the moment. "It was definitely the most intense game of the season."
It was the first time in Stephens' program history that the Stars defeated Westminster. And it was the perfect ending to a day of firsts for Pavlovich.
Stephens College now has three weeks off for winter break. But Pavlovich plans to send his players back to their hometowns with a workout routine and one goal in mind: individual improvement.
In January, Stephens begins conference competition for the first time in program history. The Stars will return to Silverthorne Arena on Jan. 10 when they take on Columbia College at 2 p.m.