It was a long journey for Tiffin University's seniors.
It hit me on the ride home from Ashland that I had probably interviewed TU guard Mandy Jaeb more than any other player in my career. Interviewing Jaeb after a Dragons' win became something of a ritual, because she had big games in each of her four years, and when the Dragons scored a win, she usally was right in the middle of it.
Her career ended Saturday, as she was held scoreless for the first time in her collegiate career in a 53-39 loss to Ferris State in the GLIAC Tournament. Jennifer Johnston and Holly Focke also saw their careers end.
It's over, but it will be a while before it's forgotten.
The 2012 Dragons will go down as perhaps the best team in program history. It had a record 21 wins. It hosted a tournament game. It beat Findlay. Twice.
The team was led by its seniors, as Johnston, Focke and Jaeb constantly were mentioned by underclassmen as sources of motivation.
It wasn't a dream season. Focke was injured in the middle of the season and was forced to watch the final games of her career from the bench. Her injury clearly affected the Dragons, who, while still very good, never looked quite the same, to the point where even Ferris State coach Tracey Dorow mentioned it after Saturday's game.
"They struggled with size," she said. "(Jessica) Harris is the only true post they had once Focke went down, and that hurt them for sure from the beginning of the year."
Because of Focke's injury, it's tempting to wonder what might have been. With Focke still in the lineup, TU took Ashland, now the No. 4 team in the country, to overtime. Without her, they got run over by the Eagles last month.
But in the end, I'll remember this team as one that established the Dragons in the GLIAC. Until this season, the Dragons were always full of young players, and watching them get better over the last few years has been enjoyable. In some ways, they remind me of the 2008 Heidelberg men's basketball team, which, like TU, had a team that stayed together and developed into a force.
The team likely will still be good next year. Harris was dominant this season, and still has one more year left. Amanda Baute is a very good rebounder who is only a sophomore, and Jillian Adams, Stephanie Kelly and Melissa Gilliland all have had impressive performances.
The team should remain tough, and coach Pam Oswald, along with her staff, deserve plenty of credit for building the program to that point.
But at the end of her interview Saturday, Oswald made sure the seniors got their due.
"I will, as a coach of Tiffin, always be forever grateful for Holly Focke and Mandy Jaeb and Jen Johnston, because they're the ones that put Tiffin women's basketball on the map," she said.