BILLINGS, MONT. (March 15, 2017) – Julia Rendon (JR/San Antonio, Texas) stood at the half-court line, miles away from the friendly confines of Mabee Gymnasium, but still surrounded by adoring fans on a cold day at Billings Bench Elementary School.
The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) women's basketball team is in Billings, Mont., fully vested in succeeding in their sixth consecutive NAIA National Championship Tournament, but before getting down to business, the Saints participated in some community service activities as part of the NAIA Champions of Character program.
The program, which is designed to promote integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership, took the Saints to the elementary school in front of an assembly of roughly 100 children. There, OLLU Head Coach Christopher Minner was asked to talk to youngsters about college as the team introduced themselves, discussed their career plans after finishing college and why they chose to attend OLLU.
Of all the questions asked, perhaps none were more challenging than one student's query into whether someone on the team could hit a half-court shot.
Minner put the ball in the hands of Rendon, his most trusted 3-point shooter this season. Without hesitation, Rendon sank the shot to the delight and applause of young students, waving decorated signs that read, "Go Saints!"
From there, the students and Saints broke out into some friendly games, ending the session in the hallways, with the students lined up and the Saints running through, doling out high-fives and smiles.
The Saints offered some helping hands, and in return, one student offered gloves, handing them to Whitney Sandmann (JR/Bentonville, Ark.) to help keep warm as the team went outside for some conditioning work in the high elevation and cold weather.
Before leaving, the Saints invited the children to participate in their ritual huddle, proclaiming their status as Saints. The goodbyes were bittersweet for the Billings Bench schoolchildren and the basketball team, but the memories everlasting.
Our Lady of the Lake University is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016-2017 as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The University began competing in the NAIA in men's soccer and volleyball in 2007. A year later, they added women's soccer, golf and tennis. In 2009, the Saints began competing in cross-country, softball and basketball. In 2014, OLLU added two more sports — baseball and track and field. There are now 13 intercollegiate athletic teams at OLLU. All athletic alumni and up to two family members will receive free admission to basketball and volleyball games throughout the season. Baseball is not included in this special offer. All other home games are free and open to the public.