They got their roses, thanked God and their families, and received a standing ovation.
Then they took the court.
It was an unusual start to a game for Columbia College women’s basketball seniors Tiffany Foote, Lisa Kowalewski, Mindy Mitchem and Charliss Ridley.
All four are starters and leaders on a team that is 24-5 after beating Illinois-Springfield 97-65 at the Arena of Southwell Complex on Saturday.
Foote, Kowalewski and Mitchem have been at Columbia College since coach Mike Davis restarted the program in 2001. They’ve helped lead the Cougars to a 107-27 record during those four years.
Ridley transferred to Columbia College from MU in 2003.
The closeness that comes with years of playing together was evident during the ceremony before the game. Kowalewski hugged Davis first, then her parents and then Foote’s parents. All four women could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.
“They’re just a great group,” Davis said. “They’ve really been the backbone of this program, without question.”
Foote and Ridley said the emotions of the night may have contributed to Columbia College’s early problems on offense. In the first half, the four seniors shot 9-of-29.
“The adrenaline, and just wanting to do so well in front of so many people, it probably had an effect,” Foote said.
Although Ridley led all scorers with 14 in the first half, she shot 30 percent.
“I don’t really mind missing so much, if they’re good shots,” Ridley said. “But these were air balls; not good-looking shots at all.”
Sophomore reserve Rachel Davis helped pick up the slack. She had eight first-half points, and led the Cougars on defense with five blocks.
After the first half, the Cougars led 42-30. A rousing second half gave the team its victory.
Mike Davis said he told his team to “relax” in the second half.
“These types of games, you tend to get hyped up and ready to go, and sometimes you need to take a step back from it,” he said.
The Cougars responded to start the second half with a 20-4 run. They picked up the intensity on defense to get seven steals, enabling easy fast break baskets.
“We love to run,” Ridley said.
When the Cougars went up by 40 with three minutes left, Davis took the seniors out of the game, to loud applause from the crowd.