Superfan helps pull Cougars out of tight spot

Sunday, March 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:31 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

During basketball season, Karen Harris has 21 extra sons and daughters.

Harris, a faithful and loud presence at all Columbia College basketball games, said she feels like all the players are her children.

“It’s just like a big family reunion,” she said.

The Columbia College women’s team needed all the family it could get Friday in the semifinals of the America Midwest Conference tournament against William Woods. The Cougars pulled out a 75-65 win at the Arena at Southwell complex.

The Cougars led 62-60 with three minutes left, a rare position for Columbia College, which had won all its conference games this season by wide margins.

As Harris and the rest of the Cougar fans started chanting “de-fense”, William Woods guard Shanna Lonsberry put her head down and drove past Columbia College forward Mindy Mitchem. The ball hit neatly on the backboard, then swished through the hoop, tying the game at 62.

The Cougars called time-out.

The basket completed a 16-0 run for William Woods, which trailed 62-46 with 7:24 left.

Harris, from her seat in the stands, attempted to add her own pep talk to the time-out.

“When I see them take a time-out, and I feel like they’re kind of down, I just try and encourage them,” she said.

Whether it was Davis’ coaching, Harris’ encouragement, or a combination of the two, something clicked after that timeout for Columbia College. The Cougars closed with a 13-3 run. Senior Charliss Ridley stood out on offense the last three minutes. After an inbounds pass from senior Lisa Kowalewski, Ridley hit a 5-footer to put Columbia College up 64-62.

On the next possession, point guard Tiffany Foote passed the ball inside to Ridley, who scooped the ball under Lonsberry’s arm and into the basket. Lonsberry was called for a foul, and after the free throw, the Cougars led 67-62.

Ridley pumped her fist in the air and jumped after the basket.

“When I got the ball at the end of the game I said, ‘Charliss, now’s your time to really step it up and be strong and be aggressive,’” she said.

Ridley hit 6-of-6 free throws, ensuring the win for the Cougars, who will face McKendree (Ill.) College in the AMC Championship on Monday. She led all scorers with 28 points.

The win was exciting for Harris. It meant she could go home knowing she had one more chance to watch the Cougars play at home.

But one member of Harris’ family wasn’t so happy to see Columbia College defeat William Woods.

Harris’ niece, Kristen Franke, who runs the scoreboard at Columbia College games, graduated from William Woods last year, and played on the basketball team for four years.

When Franke played, Harris said she would watch the games with her sister (Franke’s mom). She still cheered for the Cougars, though.

“I’d cheer for Kristen when she played, but the rest of the time I was a definite Columbia College fan,” she said. “I got a few boos a couple times, but that's the fun of being a fan."

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