It is the annual ceremony which honors those student-athletes who have put in four (or, in some cases, more) years of hard work for their team.
It is Senior Night.
For Ashland University's women's basketball team, senior guards Maddie Dackin and Brooke Smith will play their final regular-season game at Kates Gymnasium on Thursday (Feb. 28) at 5:30 p.m. vs. Wayne State. As a senior class, Dackin and Smith are tied for the most wins in program history with 129, a whopping average of 32.25 victories per season.
Beyond the wins, the two trips to the NCAA Division II championship game and the 2016-17 national championship and undefeated season, Dackin and Smith have left a lasting impression on the class that will be Eagle seniors in 2019-20.
"Obviously, they've had a huge impact on this culture," said junior guard/forward Jodi Johnson, "but on and off the court, they've impacted my life. We've created the relationships that will last a lifetime. The impact they've had on me on the court has been able to translate off the court."
If there is one thing that garnered Dackin and Smith universal praise, it is for their work ethic.
Junior guard Renee Stimpert – "When I think of them, I think of their work ethic, especially when we used to press. They were always, the whole game, I don't even understand how they did it sometimes, they would be in someone's face. That kind of work ethic showed me, and all of us, the path of what we should do to become great – great leaders, great people, just great basketball players."
Johnson – "They continue to just work hard every single day, whether they are on the court or off the court."
Junior guard/forward Sarah Hart – "They're successful because they work hard, and because they hold each other accountable, and because they hold the team accountable, and they just make us better as a whole."
Junior forward Sara Loomis – "They're two of the hardest-working people I've met."
It's that work ethic that allowed Dackin and Smith to move into a regular off-the-bench role at the end of their freshman season – and ever since that point, Ashland's won-lost record is 108-4.
"It was cool seeing that," Stimpert said of Dackin and Smith's freshman-year progress. "I came to games, living here in Ashland, and I saw the transformation. Seeing that from afar, from when they were freshmen…to being able to play beside them, it's never lacking."
Johnson added, "They just made that team a lot better. That shows how much hard work they put in that year."
Smith will go down as one of the best on-the-ball perimeter defenders in program history, and both Smith and Dackin are two main reasons why opponents average just 63.6 points per game and hit just 32.6 percent from 3-point range this season, and why Ashland leads the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in steals at 9.9 per contest.
"I was going against Brooke yesterday, and it just makes you mad," said Stimpert. "I was getting so mad. I don't understand how other teams do it. They come down the floor, and right when they cross half-court, Brooke is in your face, Maddie is in your face."
Said Loomis, "Luckily, I'm a post, so they don't have to pressure me up top like that, but they seriously make our guards the best in the league. The way they defend is unbelievable. I would hate to be the person having the ball with Brooke and Maddie defending me."
After Thursday night's game comes the 2019 GLIAC Tournament and, most likely, the Eagles' fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II postseason. The juniors want to do everything they can to have the seniors go out the right way - with a shot at another national championship.
"That's the goal for all of us," Johnson said. "Coach P (head coach Kari Pickens) has slowly been mentioning the last couple games how we don't have very much time left with them. It just makes us realize that we don't get this opportunity for long with this team, and just making the best of our last couple games together."
Hart said, "We don't want them to leave any other way than to finish like that. Next year, it's going to be us, so how would we want to leave? They deserve everything that they've worked for."
"The type of teammates they are, they deserve everything," Loomis said. "They set the tone for our team. They're the heart and soul of our team. We want to win for them. We want to do it for them."
Since the first day they stepped foot in campus, Dackin and Smith have been seemingly inseparable. They even have the same major (Exercise Science).
Have any of their junior teammates seen one without the other over the last three years?
"Occasionally," Johnson said, "but it doesn't happen very often."
"Now that I think of it, honestly, no," said Stimpert. "We laugh – they come to shoot-around, and they are wearing the same thing sometimes, and we look at them, and we're like, 'Wait, did you guys plan that?' They're always with each other, and it's cool to see. They're best friends on the court and off the court."
Added Loomis, "Rarely. If it's Maddie, there's Brooke right with her, and the opposite way. They're like sisters, and it's awesome to see."