By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
Keri Washington-Bah is in a unique position. She is the only person, who has been a part of the last two NCAA Tournament teams that the TCNJ Lions have played in a decade apart.
Washington-Bah was a soph. guard during the magical 2008-09 season. That team, led by Division III National Player of the Year, Hillary Klimowicz, finished third in the country.
This finish still stands as the best season in school history.
“Playing in the tournament was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” Washington-Bah said. “Being able to be part of the first team to accomplish this feat was even more special. It was one of those experiences that you will take with you forever.
“I know that there aren’t many people that have the opportunity to have that type of accomplishment, so to be able to hold onto that is something that will always mean so much to me. It seems like just yesterday we were traveling to Hope College in Michigan to compete.”
This season, Washington-Bah was one of two assistants, who was hired by first-year Lions Head Coach Chessie Jackson. She hired Helen Roberts and Washington-Bah to be her assistant coaches.
“Being able to come back this year and have my first son during this time has made it quite a special year,” she said. “I am grateful that I was able to coach at my alma mater, many don’t have the chance. One of the best teaching lessons in life is experience. Being able to actually relate to the players and have been in their shoes ten years ago, I can truly speak to the journey.
“It is exciting to be able to host, now that aspect I, unfortunately, can’t speak to. But I am really emphasizing ‘living in the moment.’ You will never be in this place with this exact team of players again in your life, so take advantage of this opportunity that has been earned.”
Unlike the 2008-09 season, the Lions have been named a host venue for the NCAA Tournament this weekend. That has not happened since the 2003-04 season.
TCNJ had their best season under Jackson since the 2008-09 season. The Lions will face Hilbert College at 7 pm at Packer Hall.
Like the Lions, the Hawks have a first-year Head Coach in Amy Senefelder.
“This is great for us as a coaching staff and a program,” Washington-Bah said. “We worked really hard this season to earn this opportunity and the team did a great job of executing everything we’ve given them in order to be successful and overcome any obstacles we faced.
“There is always an advantage to playing on your home court, especially when you go undefeated (12-0 at home), which is exactly what we did back in 2008-09 (13-0 at Packer Hall) when we made our run. Hopefully, we can use this to our advantage.”
As the Lions prepare for the NCAA Tournament, they can lean on Washington-Bah’s past experiences to help them get through this weekend and future rounds of the tournament should they advance.
“It’s important that the players all understand the magnitude of what they’ve accomplished,” she said. “I think as a coach, it is important to drive that message home. When your body is tired from month-in and month-out of playing and competing, your mind has to be strong enough to will through.
“That was a major factor for us back in 2008-09, we kept each other mentally into it. At that point, it’s more than just strategy, it’s mentally being tough enough to take it to the next level.”