By Steve Yang
The Bear’s fitness center can be a loud and intimidating place to work out. Finding one’s groove can take some time amidst the rhythms of heavy weights thumping and thudding on the squat racks, or the grunts and shouts of effort being produced indiscriminately against the steady backbeat of pop station 106.1. But for the Women’s Basketball team, who are 13-9 overall this season, making the fitness center home is the product of unwavering support and conscious dedication to inclusivity on an academic, athletic and personal level.
“Off the court, we go to each other’s extra-curricular activities, like MAP presentations, concerts, art performances; we’re there,” said Ariel Keller ’17. “Someone will put something in the team group message: the event is at this time, and if they can make it, the whole team is likely to show up.”
Keller added that the team works to cultivate a culture of caring, from simple high-fives to getting up early together to study while on the road.
“Recognize that a team is a support network. You can use it effectively, or not use it at all,” she said. “Seeing people work on their work is contagious. People are always willing to offer help and support.”
Occasionally, the best days at the gym are attributed to anger or rage: lifts can become easier when all that energy is channeled into something simple and productive. But the women’s team works hard to make sure that all the energy they exude and draw on is positive, rather than negative. Keller credits good communication and positivity in maintaining team chemistry in the four seasons that she’s played for the Pioneers.
“For everything we say, we try to make it positive. Regardless of what you say, if you don’t have a positive tone, it comes off in a negative way,” Keller explained. “The way we’re encouraging is kind of like, we’re goofy … We scream, [we] make jokes at each other. We will scream sometimes when things go well and … say absurd things that don’t make sense.”
Guard Haley Lopez ‘17 agrees that lightheartedness and a more fun-loving attitude to the possible stressors found in the fitness center and the Bear make the whole process more enjoyable. She emphasized that there is a gentle balance between fun and hard work, to both have a lot of fun but to work equally hard.
“When people are weightlifting, we shout, ‘Let’s go women’s basketball!’ to the entire room,” Lopez noted. “There are times for all of us to be crazy together, but every moment in the gym together is taken very seriously in terms of achieving goals.”
Lopez added that various members of the team have their unique flairs for making workouts more fun, like shouting lyrics from rapper D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli,” making eye contact with each other and singing together all the time. Specifically, she noted that Hanna Kessel frequently serves as a team cheerleader.
“I want to thank Hanna for being who she is. For us, she’s one of the most incredible support systems that we have in competitions,” Lopez said. “Her excitement and passion is unwavering for every single person on the team. It makes us all want to give back to each other when we hear that from her.”
That positive energy has carried the team through particularly difficult stretches, such as back-to-back losses against Midwestern Conference standouts Ripon College and St. Norbert College. The match against Ripon was a close one that got away from the Pioneers in the end, while the game against St. Norbert was much more difficult. Although their expectations were not terribly high, head coach Dana Harrold was on leave and consequently the players needed to depend on each other to start the next practice feeling normal.
“We show up the next day to practice to work just as hard, as if nothing was wrong,” Keller said.
That attitude often leaves a lasting impression on prospective team members and first-years, who may feel intimidated by joining a college team. Keller said that the team goes out of its way to be overwhelmingly welcome to first years, and to care for one another on and off the court.
“People reach out to us on Facebook, and we’re always excited for someone to be part of the Grinnell women’s basketball family,” she said. “Alissa Hirsh [’16] always said: ‘Grinnell women’s basketball has a soul.’”
It is that spirit that has become a defining part of who Keller and Lopez say they are today as Grinnellians, Pioneers and a part of their team.
“This connection that we have is for life. The memories that we’ve created as a group of women are going to be ones that we talk about for the rest of our lives,” Lopez said.
“I fear what happens when the season is over, but I know the network extends long beyond Grinnell,” Keller added.