Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

April 22, 2014

'Nothing's impossible': BSC honors its Lady Blues

BLUEFIELD — It seemed impossible to many a few months ago, but the Bluefield State College women’s basketball team celebrated a new reality on Monday morning.

The women, their coach, their college president and others gathered at the Harris-Jefferson Student Center to recognize the Lady Blues’ first championship in 21 years.

After starting the season 2-9 last fall, Bluefield State won the postseason tournament in Division II of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) on March 16 in Connecticut.

“These young ladies have shown the epitome of perseverance throughout the season,” said their coach, J.J. Oliver. “It’s definitely a season we’ll remember the rest of our lives. It’s one in which we started out struggling, and we overcame a lot of obstacles, and regrouped.

“It just shows the perseverance that this team has, and the ‘don’t quit’ attitude that’s prevalent across our college and through all of our athletic teams.”

“We can look back and say we achieved a lot.”

Dr. Marsha Krotseng, BSC president, said at the start of the event, “We are honoring today something that has not been done in the history of Bluefield State College in 21 years. This day has been a long day in coming, and we owe that day to the Lady Blues.”

“We’re very, very proud of them,” she said. “They’ve inspired all of us this season.”

“What you’ve done really has energized the campus, it’s brought us all together and given us something to cheer for, and we’re really excited about all the victories you’ve experienced throughout the season.”

The ceremony was “to thank you for all that you have done for the campus, and to look forward to what you’re going to be contributing to us in the coming years as well,” she said.

Student government association president Jerry Perdue said to the team members, “You all have been able to create a life among the student body that has not been seen in a long time.

“You have seen at the games, we were coming, we were so there to support our Lady Blues.”

“We wanted to be sure that on our campus we were able to recognize everything that you’ve done, all of the hard work that you’ve put into this year, and inspire all the other students.

“Not only were you able to be great players on the court, but you were great team players with your presence here at school. You were going to classes, you were making sure you were making the grades, and you were out in the community, volunteering and supporting everything that Bluefield has.”

“To do all of that is an accomplishment that must be recognized.”

Master of ceremonies Louis Belt said, “It’s something we can all be proud of.”

The Bluefield State College Board of Governors recognized the achievements last week with a resolution, Krotseng reported.

Senior Jenaya Abernathy said the student body has embraced the team, though many were skeptical at first.

“I really feel that they really appreciate the hard work and effort that we did,” she said, “even though it was shaky; a lot of people didn’t believe in us because we were 2-9 ... but we did it. Nothing is impossible. Nothing.”

Oliver said, “Hopefully, we can become a beacon for this entire campus as a whole, showing what you can do when you put your mind to it and keep working.”

At the start of basketball season, Bluefield State was playing without any conference affiliation, with the demise of the West Virginia Conference the summer before.

The schedule had to be knitted together based on when larger NCAA Division I schools wanted BSC to play, and when other independent colleges or closer-by institutions could fit them in.

Last winter, Bluefield State joined the ECAC, a loose confederation of more than 100 schools headquartered in New England.

Oliver said winning the ECAC title “definitely re-energized our campus. We go from not being part of a conference at the beginning of this year, to not only being a part of one but winning it in our first year. I think it brings hope to our student body, it brings hope to all of our student-athletes.”

“When you actually have some proof in the pudding, it brings it around in another light.”

“I’ve been coaching for 11 years,” Oliver said, “and this is the most interesting season I’ve ever encountered. ... But it’s definitely a ride that I’ve enjoyed.”

“When I came here four years ago, and I was talking about a conference title, I got a lot of side eyes. But I stand here today as evidence that when you believe in what you’re doing, and you work to get where you are, that anything’s possible.”

“Hopefully, that idea will pervade throughout the whole campus and we can grow as an institution.”

Abernathy said, “I’m very grateful for my teammates and coaches. They really put in a vision for us, and we all had to buy into that vision — even if it sounded kind of crazy, starting off 2-9, and he’s still believing we can still win the championship.”

“He kept talking about the new year, 2014 is our year. He just kept saying that, and we started believing, like maybe it is our year. ... Coach, he already believed in it. We just had to believe in it with him.”

Krotseng said the team’s late-season run “was amazing. You really could see the turnaround after January, when they came back, watching the ladies gel as a team.”

“They worked with each other, they supported and helped each other, they shared the ball. That’s really what led to that championship, that kind of teamwork. Really exceptional.”

Abernathy said, “I always say, it’s my favorite quote, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ I believe that to the fullest.”

Krotseng said, “At Bluefield State, we’re all about student success, and celebrating our  students’ success. ... It really inspires the entire student body, and helps energize all of us, to realize why we’re here. We’re here for their success.”

She added, “All of our board members are tremendously proud and appreciative of what the Lady Blues have done for our athletics (program). Really, I think it has helped our entire athletic program step up.

“We all realize what we can do, we realize what we can do as an institution. Every program is stepping up, and I’m proud to see that.”

Oliver said, “This is a special group of young ladies. Number one, all of these young ladies bought into a vision when they decided to come to Bluefield State College. ... Four years ago, there wasn’t much of a bright outlook.”

“These young ladies trusted in me, that I would put them in a position to be successful.”

“I think their perseverance and their work in the classroom and outside the classroom is something that they should be very proud of. And I’m very appreciative to them that they allowed me to coach them.”

“We set the vision for what our program was when we came here four years ago. It took a lot of work to get that done. It took a lot of entities. It’s not just ‘Coach Oliver’s Adventures.’ It’s a joint effort among a lot of different entities on campus.”

He also shared the credit with his wife, who was present in the back of the assembly area.

Interim athletics director Roger Owensby praised Oliver and assistant coach LeKiesha White for their “long, hard hours” of work.

Oliver introduced each of his players and others who are in the program, and had them stand in front of the room. Applause mounted up as Perdue presented a plaque on behalf of the student government association to the team.

Krotseng said afterward, “You could feel the pride, the energy ... the excitement. It’s a wonderful feeling to see the energy that’s here.”

“We are excited about the athletic teams that we have here,” Perdue said. “This has been an amazing year for all of our athletic teams. I am so proud of everything that’s gone on at this school.”

“I think this athletic department as a whole deserves a round of applause,” Oliver said. “Each one of these programs has grown tremendously from the first time that I’ve been here.”

He said about the basketball team’s future, “For those who are coming back, we’re going to try to go back-to-back. ... We’re about being groundbreaking, and living in excellence.”

“Now we have a new goal. We want to improve every year. ... by not only competing for a conference title, but competing for the national title.”

Abernathy will not be on the floor for that next step. The 5-foot-8 guard finished her senior season last month.

She did, however, share a recipe for her teammates, and anyone else listening.

“Work hard,” she said. “Just keep running, don’t let up. When something seems impossible — nothing’s impossible. Just do what you’ve got to do.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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