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Women’s basketball team grateful for ‘15th player’ – the fans

Program engages with local teams, community to show appreciation

The Ohio State University women’s basketball team is off to a hot start. The team is currently 21 and 4 and among the best in the Big Ten.

A key factor in the team’s success? The fans. The thousands that attend each game give the Buckeyes a boost every single time.

“They’re family,” said senior guard Hevynne Bristow.

This year, the players have made a concerted effort to reach more fans. Last year’s team made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, despite low expectations. Those players wanted to thank the fans who had rooted for them all year, said assistant coach Jalen Powell.

“We had a core group of players returning this year, so we wanted to focus on getting people to the games to see how well our team plays,” she said. “We also want the fans to see not only how good they are as players but how great they are as people.”

This led to a community outreach push. Local middle and high school teams were invited to games, clinics are offered with players, area teams are given the chance to play on the Schottenstein Center court during halftime and players sign autographs so they can meet fans one-on-one.

“It’s awesome, getting to know our fans,” Bristow said. “We meet new people, but we see a lot of the same faces now, too. It’s really special. I met twins at a clinic, and I still talk to them. We can talk about anything.”

“At a recent game, a little girl with Down syndrome came up to me during warm-up,” said senior guard Jacy Sheldon. “My sister has Down syndrome, too, so that was awesome. She talked to my sister a little bit, too, and we got to know her and her mom. That’s one of my favorite memories this year.”

Jacy Sheldon smiles with a fan“I remember one team, from my hometown,” said freshman forward and Centerville native Cotie McMahon. “I came out to sign autographs and I just hear them screaming my name. They made me feel so loved.”

In addition to meeting fans, players are excited to serve as role models for athletes, especially young women.

“If you see someone doing it, you know you can do it,” Powell said. “If you see someone achieving a goal, it becomes more of a reality for a young player. Why should they have self-doubt when they see someone else do it and be successful?”

“Having women athletes to look up to is huge,” Sheldon said. “It was huge for us, too. Having the opportunity to do that for other kids is cool and special. That’s something we think about a lot and take pride in.”

Returning the support given to them is just as important for the team. In addition to the clinics, the team performs service projects in Columbus in the off-season.

“I’m not from Columbus,” said Bristow. “Growing up in New York, the Knicks and the Liberty [basketball] programs did a lot of community stuff. That made me want to be like them more, so us reaching out to our community in Columbus might inspire others to do the same.”

Fan support can help buoy spirits, too – during wins and losses.

“I want them to know that we’re going to keep going out there, every night, playing as hard as we can and trying to get a win,” Sheldon said. “That’s for each other but it’s also for them. They’re part of our journey.”

“We have 14 players on the team. It’s like having 15,” Powell said. “They’re our 15th player.”

“Whenever we get the chance, we tell them ‘thank you,’” she added. “Every time they sign an autograph, they say ‘thank you for coming.’ If they take a picture or talk to a child, they say ‘thank you for coming,’ because it means that much. It makes a difference. It shows in the way we play. It shows in the way we carry ourselves. It shows when we show up every day. We’re not just playing to win, we’re playing for our fans.”

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