Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 7, 2014

Cold journey home

Lady Lions endure through winter blast

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ATHENS — Ice on the inside of the bus windows.

That is a lingering memory for the Concord University women’s basketball team about their return Monday night from a road trip to the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.

The Lady Lions and their coaches took notice of the plummeting temperatures and dangerous wind chills that swept the region, yet managed to return to Athens none the worse for the weather.

It was “definitely a journey,” said junior post player Andrea Bertrand.

The team’s only senior, center Sammi Webster, said on Tuesday, “On the inside of our windows, it got really icy, so we were like, ‘WHAT is going ON?’ ”

She said the adventure was “kind of scary, because we’ve never had weather like this before.”

Coach Kenny Osborne said about wintertime road trips, “Your first concern is the safety of the players. You have the issue, can you get from point A to point B? Then you have the issue of getting home.”

“We called and the roads were fine, and that was the biggest concern. You know, in the back of your mind, (you’re thinking) what if we break down along the side of the road?”

“I try not to talk about it in front of them (Concord’s players), because I am a worrier. I worry about those type of things.”

Webster said, “We didn’t know when we’d make it back home. But Coach did not want to put us in danger, which is awesome.”

The outside conditions did not seem to affect the Lady Lions’ performance. Osborne said, “It didn’t have anything to do with it. We played a great game on Saturday.”

Concord split two games on their Mountain East Conference road trip, winning 79-78 at West Liberty on Saturday and dropping a 70-55 decision at nearby Wheeling Jesuit on Monday afternoon.

Webster said that as the trip began, “We were all on our phones, checking the weather forecast, and in our hotel, they had the weather (channel) on. We were all kind of looking at it.”

Her priority list included a message back home. She said, “My mom’s always been the kind of person that (says), ‘As soon as you get there, I need to know.’ So I had to make sure I texted her and she knew we were safe.”

Webster said, “This definitely wasn’t like just a trip. We called it a business trip. We had stuff we had to get done. So everything else didn’t matter. We had to win games, and that’s what our focus was on.”

“We focused on each game individually. We weren’t looking past West Liberty, thinking about Wheeling (Jesuit). It was West Liberty, and then once that game was over, it was Wheeling.”

Bertrand said shutting out the weather forecast “wasn’t too difficult. ... We just go out there with the mindset that we’ve got to go out there and play hard, and win. It wasn’t too bad.”

One individual in the crowd at West Liberty was Bertrand’s grandmother, who rode five hours from Richmond with Bertrand’s parents to see the game — after making a trip from the warmer climes of Florida.

Bertrand said, “My grandma came up from Florida, and she doesn’t like the cold. At all. That’s why she’s in Florida. But she wanted to see me play. It was the first college game she’s seen me play, so they decided to make the trip.”

“That was very nice — definitely, to get that win, too.”

Osborne, in his 14th season of collegiate coaching in West Virginia, has a mental checklist of sites where lodging may be found in an emergency — Wheeling, Cambridge (Ohio), Marietta, Parkersburg, Ripley, Charleston, Beckley.

“I know there are hotels right off the interstate,” he said.

Smart phones have made those contingency plans simpler. It hasn’t always been that way.

“I can remember one bad winter we had about five or six years ago,” Osborne said. “Coming back (from a road game), I didn’t have a smart phone. My wife had to text me all the different hotel numbers, coming down (Interstate) 79 from Clarksburg to Weston to Flatwoods to Summersville.”

He said, “(Monday) night we stopped in Ripley, about 9:15, and I put fuel in the bus, and that wind was just whipping right through me. One of the things that I saw out of the corner of my eye was an Appalachian Power truck. I’m thinking, ‘Those guys have the real job,’ ... going back up a pole or being up in a bucket.”

Prior to leaving Athens last week, he cautioned his team about what they needed to expect.

“I talked to them about a change of clothes, if you’re on any medication, (things) they need to have with them,” he said.

“They think dressing warmly is a hoodie and, like, a travel suit top. I said, ‘No, you’ve got to have a COAT, gloves, toboggan, scarf, the whole deal.”

On Monday, Wheeling Jesuit University decided to close down at 1:30 p.m. due to the bitterly-cold forecast, Osborne said.

He said, “We were kind of stuck: What do we do? Since we were there, they said, ‘Let’s play.’ We did, and I appreciate their thinking of us, so we don’t have to make the return trip to Wheeling ... .”

Attendance for the game was listed at 150. Osborne joked, “They were counting our men’s team, the game workers and everybody else. ... The biggest thing is, we got to play. We came up on the short end, but we got the game in.”

“They were concerned about our safety. The assistant wanted me to send him updates. I’ve known him a long time. I said, ‘Shoot, we’re coming along fine.’ The roads were clear.”

He had considered extending their stay through Monday night and returning on Tuesday, “but it was supposed to be warmer (Monday) night when we were driving home than it was today (Tuesday),” he said.

The concerns for safety did not end when the bus pulled up to the Carter Center on the Concord campus, Webster said.

“When we got back (Monday) night, Coach wouldn’t let us walk back to the dorm,” Webster said. “He said it was too cold.”

After the team equipment and personal belongings were quickly unloaded, the group divided up into cars driven by Osborne, assistant coach Jamie Cluesman and “one of our teammates who had driven over,” Webster said.

“We all piled in those cars, and they just drove us to the door.”

—Contact Tom Bone  tbone@bdtonline.com