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From failure to success: SD shifts the goal

The South Dakota Coyotes are making the most of their postseason play in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. They fell short of participating in the NCAA Tournament this year, yet they moved on and now get to play in the Final Four against Oregon.

Kelly Stewart -Swish Appeal

Vermillion, S.D. - It's hard to believe that as I write this, there is only a maximum of four days left in my entire basketball career.

Four. Days.

Were we not just waking up at 5:30 a.m. on the chilly fall days of preseason, driving to the DakotaDome and running 300 shuttles in the dim lighting?  Back it up even move I still remember moving into my dorm on June 12, 2011, and, while unpacking, receiving a text that said, "We're playing pick-up at 3:30."  Let's just say my fellow freshmen and I got our first taste of how fast-paced the college game is on that day.

Now, here I am, almost five years from that summer day, starting the last week of basketball the last week I'll ever share as a player with this amazing group of young women directly in the face.

It's definitely a tough pill to swallow, but before I get ahead of myself, WE'RE NOT DONE.  There is something HUGE to be said for what we have going on right now at USD, and I couldn't be prouder to be a part of it.

Rewind back to the days of high school basketball and getting recruited to play in college.  Everyone's goal was pretty much the same they wanted to play for a championship (and win, of course); they wanted to play on the big stage.  Naturally, everyone wants to make it to the NCAA tournament.  That's the goal at the start of the season, and if I said that wasn't our goal at USD, I'd be lying.

However, that didn't happen this year (see here).

But perhaps one of the best lessons that this amazing sport can teach us is that failures happen.  Things don't always go how you want them to. You miss layups.  You get beat on defense. Sometimes you lose.

Basketball is a game of mistakes.

To be quite honest, when we lost that Summit League Tournament championship game to South Dakota State, it hurt.  It hurt badAnd even with our record and historic season, I knew that our goal of reaching the NCAA tournament -- the ultimate send-off for any senior class playing their last weeks of basketball -- was out of reach.

Despite being one of the toughest losses I've ever experienced, one thought kept me going and lifted my spirits (a heavy weight to lift at that time).  I was still going to be able to suit up again with my teammates and coaches in at least one more game for postseason play.

It wasn't the end.  It was simply a time to shift our goal.

The new goalMaking some noise in the WNIT.

Shifting that goal wasn't as easy as it sounded. We had three days off after the Summit League Tournament to refocus and refresh our minds.  When we all came back together for practice, we didn't look like a team that was "excited" about the next challenge on the schedule.

We still looked a little defeated.  In fact, Coach Williams had to stop one of our first drills and call us out on it.  However, after a practice or two, the excitement was building.

Not everyone gets to play in the postseason, and being able to be a postseason team and play the game we love with our second family is definitely something special.  It's the time when "win or go home" and "play every possession like it's your last" actually ring true.

And this postseason, our entire team has been taking those two clichés to heart.  With that, we've earned our way to the Final Four of the WNIT.  We've earned our spot on the big stage.

"Life is about the journey, not the destination."  It's another cliché, and we can probably all find it in fancy cursive font on a Pinterest board somewhere, but it couldn't be more true.

This season, like every season, has had its ups and downs.  We've had losses, we've had bad practices, we've had injuries.  Fortunately, our "ups" have far outnumbered our "downs." It's truly a combination of great players, great coaches, amazing fans, hard work, disappointments and successes that has brought this team to where we are now -- representing our school and community on the national stage.

Tonight, we face the University of Oregon in the WNIT semifinals.  I've seen on Twitter that USD has already sold 4,000+ tickets (a huge number for the DakotaDome, just in case you're unfamiliar).  Playing in front of our amazing fans during this tournament has been absolutely unreal.  It's the atmosphere you dream of as a little kid shooting hoops in the driveway.

Now, here I am, living this dream with my amazing teammates and coaches.  There is truly no prouder moment than to stand on the court as a team listening to the national anthem, awaiting the tip-off, and knowing that your team has your back, and you have theirs.

So, the stage is set.  Tonight, like every night, we're giving it our all.  We're playing our hearts out for our teammates, for our coaches, and for our fans.  Why? Because each and every one of them deserves it. We shifted our goal, and now we're making that noise.