A little over a minute remained Wednesday night when Illinois State’s Katie Broadway went to the bench, her team’s deep postseason run about to end one game too soon. The junior guard plopped down next to Amanda Clifton, one of five seniors watching the final seconds of their Redbird career tick away.
Tears began to gush from Broadway’s eyes. Clifton leaned over and said something to her. A few seconds later, Clifton did it again.
Being a leader isn’t always taking a charge, setting up the offense, making the right pass. Sometimes, it’s offering encouraging words that only one person out of 4,000-plus can hear.
That lesson in leadership, one of many this season, will endure a lot longer than the sting of Wednesday’s 63-36 WNIT semifinal loss to Southern California.
Consider it the silver lining beneath Redbird Arena’s Teflon-coated roof. Next year, when it’s Broadway’s turn to set the example, instill a mindset, she will be well equipped.
Clifton saw to that, as did fellow seniors Emily Hanley, Shala Jackson, Hannah Spanich and Kenyatta Shelton.
“It’s in our personal lives, it’s in our social lives, it’s everything,” Broadway said of their impact. “It’s keeping us from making bad decisions, helping us stay the right course.
“Every day at practice, it’s just busting it. That shows me what it takes to get us all together and get us fired up.”
It helps explain why on Wednesday ISU became the first school to play in three straight WNIT semifinals.
Last year’s seniors learned from Kristi Cirone in 2009. This year’s seniors learned from Nicolle Lewis, Ashleen Bracey and Maggie Krick in 2010. Broadway has learned from all of them.
You can’t put a price on that, so just call it invaluable.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better example for the younger players, for the returning players, than these five seniors,” first-year ISU coach Stephanie Glance said.
“I’ll probably use them over and over again as an example in the future because they gave everything they had. They did it in practice every day.”
One of those days followed an 80-51 loss to Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinals … a nightmare that could have defined the season.
Instead, it ended on an upswing, regardless the final score Wednesday against a tall, talented and simply better Southern Cal team.
Less than 10 minutes afterward, Broadway’s eyes were dry and clear. She could look ahead to next year.
“It’s a little more motivation each time,” she said of falling short of the WNIT title game. “I’ve been here three years now and we’ve never gotten past this point. It’s motivation that, ‘You know what, you’ve got to give a little bit more.’ ”
Candace Sykes takes that away as well. The sophomore transfer from Alabama provided a first-half spark with two quick baskets, helping ISU get within 30-22 at halftime.
Next year, she will play an expanded role … with the WNIT run, and Wednesday’s abrupt end, in the back of her mind.
“I feel like this has given all of us a desire to get better,” she said.
And not just on the court. Like Broadway, Sykes knows there is leadership to replace “in practice, off the court, in the classroom, everywhere.”
Soon enough, it will be her turn.
“It makes me eager and it makes me nervous at the same time,” she said.
That’s how it works. The act is tough to follow … again.
Randy Kindred is at email@example.com. The Kindred Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs