Motivation was the biggest key to the success of the Baldwin Wallace women's basketball team this season.
The 2012-13 season was over before it started for the Yellow Jackets, as the president of the university elected to pull all of the school's athletic teams out of the running for Ohio Athletic Conference and national tournaments because of improper financial aid being awarded to several student-athletes.
That one-year suspension proved to be the biggest motivating factor for the Yellow Jackets this season, as they went 20-6 overall, 15-3 in conference play and won the regular-season championship for the eighth time under the guidance of coach Cheri Harrer.
"Our kids had a pretty bitter taste in their mouths last year after what happened with the whole NCAA thing," Harrer recalled. "They worked really hard in the summer. They've got a chip on their shoulders.
"I was so happy for our kids. Our kids were crying. We all really thought our season was over, and our kids were so excited. That's what's so special for me to see. This team loves to play together, and it was great for them to get a chance to continue this, to play together for a little while longer."
Not bad for a team with only two seniors, guard Jessica Lairson and forward Lexi Rohrbach, in addition to just two juniors in guards Shari Mangas and Audrey Smolik.
"We were hopeful going in that we could have a good year, but we did graduate five seniors from last year's team and we were fairly young," Harrer said. "We started with the loss to Tufts, but Tufts is a great team. We've kind of been up and down in that we'll play well for a stretch of five or six and then, have a bad game. Hopefully, we can get on a stretch of five or six here.
"We have a handful of kids that just work so darn hard and it is very satisfying to see them get one of their goals. That's the best thing."
This season, Lairson, Rohrbach, Mangas and Smolik have combined to average 54.9 of the Yellow Jackets' 78.3 points per game and score 398 of the team's 717 field goals this season.
"We had some kids come back as significantly better players, and the other thing we've done, and it's a credit to the kids, they've come to practice every day and they've really competed with each other. For a while, we weren't doing that, but these guys can go at each other every day in practice and still be friends. That's a great thing."
In 24 years at the helm of the program, Harrer has led the team to a school record 486 wins and .732 winning percentage. A four-time OAC Coach of the Year, Harrer's teams have been selected to 12 NCAA Division III Tournaments, and made the Elite Eight three times (1999, 2000, and 2004).
This time around, the motivated Yellow Jackets will travel to York, Penn., where they will face Lebanon Valley, a team that went 21-6 and advanced to the Commonwealth Conference Championship Game.
"There's no easy teams. Lebanon Valley is very good," Harrer said. "They're a very, very solid team. I don't know as much about La Roche or York yet because we haven't spent as much time looking at them, but York's 25-2. We're going to have to play at our very best."