forever a bison.

Arielle Saunders
Mar 16, 2015 · 8 min read

It’s been 1,576 days since I signed to play college basketball at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. A small community I had known well for years, but the last place I had expected to be signing the next four years of my life away to. 1,576 days sounds like a lot, but it feels like just the other day that I barely managed to stumble into my dorm room after our first track workout. On March 13, 2015 everything changed. The commitment I made on signing day ended, and my time wearing a Lady Bison jersey officially ran its course. However, the past few days have shown me that Dumbledore got it right about how some things only open at the close. For me, my eyes have opened to the impact that my decision to become a Lady Bison had on my life. It turns out that sometimes the biggest blessings in life really are unexpected.

Being a Harding Lady Bison completely changed my life. Plain and simple. It has blessed me immeasurably by making me a better person, a better Christian, a better athlete, a better leader, a better teammate, a better sister, a better daughter, and a better friend. By no means has the journey been perfect. By no means has any of it been easy. By no means has everything gone according to plan. But I've been able to find peace at the end of this chapter of my life, because everything that happened during my time as a Lady Bison was founded in love. I can only pray that I've managed to have a fraction of the impact on Harding and this program as it has had on me. There’s a poster hanging up in our locker-room with 2 Timothy 1:7 on it. It’s hanging almost directly across from my locker, so I saw it almost every day for the past four years. It says, “ For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” To me, that’s the embodiment of a Lady Bison. That’s what my time here instilled in me. To step out on the court every night, and to approach every day of life for that matter, with an uncompromising confidence in the power of the Spirit within and to do so in the most loving way possible.

I've lost track of the number of teammates I had over the past four years. So many faces came and went for various reasons. Only three of us from the freshman class of 2011 made it to our last game together in the 2015 NCAA Tournament in Hays, Kansas. We all met for the first time as high school seniors at Midnight Madness and have had the opportunity to travel the country together playing the game we love ever since. We went to Washington, Hawaii, Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Kansas and a million places in between. We did everything from host a NCAA Regional Tournament to walk together through the snow for a 5:30 am “get right” practice (or two). Freshman year we got thrown into the fire, mostly by default. Our team survived injury after injury and still managed to get a taste of winning. Sophomore year was the lost year and I’m still not quite sure it actually happened, because it feels like a blur. Junior year was when everything finally changed. A year of firsts and history making. The stars aligned and we did our best to seize the moment, but the end came far too soon. Senior year was our last shot. Again, the end came more quickly than we wanted. But we found out you only need one more time if you make the most of the time you've been given. I truly think we made the most of it. The fact that we survived it together to get to where we are today is what has made it unforgettable.

Through all of it, I’m convinced that our coaches treated us better than any other coaches in the country treat their players. We ate at the best restaurants, stayed in the best hotels, went on the nicest trips, and were treated with love and respect throughout it all. They welcomed us into their homes and made sure we were always taken care of. On and off the floor. They were patient with me when I messed up and were my biggest fans when I succeeded. I know we all drove each other crazy at different points on the journey, but that’s what family does. I’ll never be able to fully express my gratitude to them for allowing me to continue my basketball career under their guidance. From everyday life to every day in practice, we've spent countless hours going to battle together and I wouldn't have wanted to do it with anyone else. I’m so thankful to have gotten to spend so much time with such great men.

Then comes our fans. Not to be repetitive, but I have no doubt that we have the best women’s basketball fans out there. From the Rhodes Rowdies to the Thundering Herd members to the many families who welcomed us into their home over the years to the staff and faculty of Harding. Every note, meal, hug, text, gift, and comment made an impact in my life. I genuinely can’t imagine being a part of a more welcoming place. You loved all of us as people, not just because of our stat line on any given night, and that made all the difference. A special few of you went above and beyond to take me in, and I’ll never be able to fully express the gratitude I feel for that. Thank you for being my home away from home. Thank you for letting me be a role model for your children. Thank you for helping me represent black and gold.

To say my parents have been my rock for the entirety of this journey is an understatement. They never pressured me to play sports, but sacrificed abundantly to help me pursue my dreams once I chose to play basketball. They literally drove thousands and thousands of miles all across the country to see me play, and I can promise that not all of those performances were exactly worth the trip. But they consistently missed work, lost sleep, and spent all kinds of money just to be there for me. They were there waiting whether I scored a career high or I barely played because of foul trouble. I’ll never walk into Rhodes Field House again and not expect to see them sitting in their spot in the stands, right behind our home bench about six or seven rows up. They, along with my brother, have put up with more from me than they should have had to, between the crazy schedule and the crazier moods they experienced due to the different outcomes of my games. We somehow came out of it all closer than ever, which is more than I could have ever asked for. I love the three of you more than anything.

Trust me, I love to win. Winning is one of the strongest sensations imaginable, but it’s also a mindset. We won a lot of games during my time at Harding. What means more to me than any specific win is the way in which we went about winning. We sacrificed for it, we prayed about it, we bled for it, and we accepted nothing less. Winning gets recognition and glory. It gets a trophy to put in a case or a banner to hang in the rafters. It’s so easy to get caught up in collecting trophies though. In determining the worth of a team or a player based on their numbers. I really hope that people realize it’s about more than a win and loss record. I will always be proud of the accomplishments I was a part of, but I value the relationships I gained during it all so much more. The important thing is to love the people you play the game with more than you love the game itself.

The last few weeks of season were, of course, bittersweet. It was the feeling you get when you’re nearing the end of your favorite book. You can feel the pages start to pile up on the left, while the pages on the right are steadily decreasing in number. The end is inevitable; as sad as you are to see it coming to a close, you’re just as happy to finally see exactly how it all plays out. I can’t say it played out exactly as I dreamed it was going to during the countless times I pictured it in my head. I would give anything for one more game or one more year. It doesn't work like that though, as much as I wish it did. Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. It just keeps pressing forward. I’m currently at the place you find yourself right after you read the last word on the last page of the final chapter. Trying to make sense of it all, connecting the dots to find the meaning behind the story, and not quite ready to let go and pick up the sequel. All I can say is that I hope as many of you as possible are in it.

Smile because it happened.

    Arielle Saunders

    Written by

    Thirty-two and invincible.