Chiney Ogwumike had the type of Senior Night that every player probably hopes for, but can sometimes get too caught up in the emotion to get (making coach Tara VanDerveer's decision to do the tear-jerking ceremonies after the game).
Not only did Stanford beat Washington State before being presented with yet another Pac-12 championship trophy, but Ogwumike managed to score a career-high 37 points in 36 minutes on Senior Day in absolutely dominant fashion - it wasn't just that she put up those points, but that there was about nothing WSU could stop her when she got the ball anywhere near the rim. Ogwumike managed to remain the center of attention even on a night when point guard Amber Orrange had 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The amazing thing about the performance was that she made everything look so easy, as though the game was her senior project in which she had mastered everything she had been taught about post play at this level. And as C&R have already described, she has the resume to support whatever claims to mastery people might make with last night's game being the finishing touch on a Pac-12 career full of accolades, milestones, and records with more likely on the way.
Yet the thing about senior days is that that they don't have to end as though someone in Hollywood had been paid to script them in order to tug at your heart strings a bit.
Prior to the Stanford game, I had the pleasure of witnessing two other finales in the Bay Area, USF's Senior Day game against Loyola Marymount and a high school boys sectional playoff game.
USF went the pre-game ceremony route as usual to honor their lone senior, Alexa "Tex" Hardick (coincidentally, a high school teammate of Stanford's Alex Green). After a beautifully done video of Hardick's modest career as a long-range specialist in which her 3-point percentage (34%) exceeds the number of games she played in the first three years under Jennifer Azzi's tutelage, her father made a surprise visit from Dallas to join the ceremony. By the end of it all, even the refs were tearing up by the end of the ceremony. During the game, Hardick got her senior moment by hitting a three with 1:41 left in the game to break a tie and help the Dons scrap out a dramatic 80-79 win to complete the best conference performance since the 2007-08 season.
Next I traveled a few blocks away to Kezar Pavilion to watch a boy's high school North Coast Section game between the school I work for and a school from San Francisco. Setting aside the disappointment of the players I've watched develop for the last few years lose the game, a moment of pride occurred there as well: down double digits with less than a minute left, three seniors - some of which had never played regular minutes in their high school career - checked into the game and got a standing ovation from a crowd of their peers that had bussed across the bridge to watch the game. It probably wasn't the way any of those seniors wanted to go out, but they got something that can seem all too rare among high school youth these days: the respect of their peers for the work they put in to contribute to the team.
Not everyone can have the type of senior day that Ogwumike did - it's not even mathematically possible. But in a sports world that can get so caught up in winning at all costs and cutting down athletes for their shortcomings, senior days can be a pleasant reminder of what the NCAA's oft-ignored principle of amateurism is all about: that participation should be motivated primarily by education, and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived.
I'm not normally one to tear up or even care much about ceremonies, pomp and circumstance. Yet there's something special about witness these moments in person and feeling an energy that can melt even the most cynical of human beings. It's simply difficult to imagine a human being with a soul not somehow being moved by the moments these celebrations produce, even when they involve player who will neither hoist trophies for their accomplishments nor have a future in formal sports competition.