Editor's Note: This story features six former members of the Viking women's basketball program who will return to campus for the program's Alumni Weekend Feb. 28-March 2.
They came to Portland State in the mid-90's to play basketball from small towns and larger metropolitan areas. They came from diverse backgrounds. They came with a lot of talent. And they came within one game of a Division II national championship (1995, losing to North Dakota State, 98-85, in the championship game).
Although they went separate ways following graduation and now live in different places, Kim (Manifesto) Windsor, Jessica (Trippet) Donatone, Kristi Smith, Amy (Wilkins) Hisaw, Katie (Rose) Post, and Alicia (Kolb) Wilks forged a special relationship. Eighteen years later, they are still close friends.
Windsor, now 39, is an intensive care unit RN and health coach with two children, living in Castro Valley, CA. Donatone, 39, has two children, works in fitness and nutrition and lives in the Denver, CO area. Smith, 39, teaches elementary school in Kent, WA and lives in Tacoma. Hisaw, 40, teaches high school in Walla Walla, WA where she also is raising two children.
Rose, 40, has two children, lives in Lake Oswego and is Nike Global Merchandising Director for Action Sports. Thirty-seven-year-old Wilks lives in Oregon City and has three children. Following six years with Adidas, she is now with the Sherwood School District.
For the last 18 years, they've gotten together for a "Girls Weekend," somewhere, usually during the summer "as that's when most of us have time off," said Windsor. "The atmosphere is a lot of fun, like we just saw one another. We act like we are back in college," she said.
The group fits well together, said Windsor, who is on a handful of all-time Viking top 10 lists in women's basketball.
"We have quite a range of personalities … from quiet to loud, funny or sarcastic … and reserved to very outgoing. But we all fit well together," she said.
They credit basketball for providing the initial spark.
It's a "unique connection that can't be replaced," said Wilks. "We were brought together through basketball, but our story goes so much deeper."
"I think any athlete immediately bonds with other athletes as you know what being on a team means and how hard you have to work to achieve success. Plus, I think we have an amazing group of people who love to have a good time," Windsor added.
"Being on a team is like being in a family. I also think one special quality that makes us keep the connection (besides the college years just being an important/defining time in life) is our ability to laugh and enjoy laughing together," Donatone said.
And they remember that time as teammates fondly.
Windsor remembers "working so hard together toward a common goal … having fun, overcoming challenges and figuring out what to do with my life (not that it has changed much)."
For Hisaw, it was "the laughter, jokes, track workouts, hotels, airports, Life cereal, snicker-doodle pancakes, weight vests, and so much more. I think that we all understood hard work and knew what it took to be champions. I believe we wanted the same goal … to be champions" … on and off the court.
"We challenged each other in practices, but left it on the floor and were great friends off. I think the respect we had for the game and for each other helped create the bond we had," said Hisaw, who didn't start with the core group as a freshman, "but they took me in as one of them and I never felt left out!"
How about experiences while playing at PSU that might help account for the post-graduate closeness?
"Not that we can print on paper!" said Windsor with a laugh.
Donatone remembers playing a game "when the entire city was shut down due to some serious storms and flooding. There were even homeless people directed to the Stott Center so we actually had people in the stands AND we had to wear uniforms from years ago because Coach Bruce (Greg Bruce, 1986-96) wouldn't let us go home for fear that we wouldn't be able to get back to campus. Then there were road trips that we bonded on, especially experiencing Hawaii for the first time together."
In the early years, their get-togethers sometimes involved families, recalled Donatone.
"Early on, family time was when we celebrated one of us getting married as our 'Girls Weekend.'" But other than that … "it's our treat to be away from it all and just hang out with each other," Donatone said.
The bond has grown over the years she said.
"We are growing up together and doing life together. The care is deeper because the years keep accumulating," Donatone said. The early years "were filled with cocktails and dancing. These latter years are defined by getting extra rest, spa pampering … and good wine."
Said Windsor: "We act like we are back in college. I think we bring out the best in one another, as we know each other's strengths as well as senses of humor."
And to that end, "there have been props like Mardi Gras masks or sombreros to keep silliness alive. Each 'Girls Weekend' developed a 'quotes page' from the funny things we said and did that we didn't want to forget … for a few years, there was a desire to get tattoos, but (that) never worked out," added Donatone.
It hasn't always been roses, admitted the group, and that's been another test of their friendship.
"Life always has its ups and downs. The downs showed our weaknesses, but we helped one another to get out of those situations. That made our ups more rewarding! We are all VERY competitive! So, we responded as a group by working harder. Our team was small in size, but very spunky and determined," said Windsor.
No matter what happened, "we have all been there for one another. Our friendships go without saying," Donatone said.
For their weekend, they go somewhere different every year.
"We usually choose our next trip when we're on our current trip. Sometimes it depends on whether or not someone is pregnant, or what everyone's finances look like at the time," said Smith, a leader on the basketball floor whose name appears on nearly every Viking top 10 women's basketball all-time ranking.
Last year, it was San Diego. The year before that, it was Boulder and Niwot, CO.
"This coming summer was really packed for everyone, so, instead of our summer get-together, we're headed to Portland for the PSU women's basketball alumni weekend (Feb. 28-March 2). The last home game is March 1, 2 p.m., so we'll all be there to cheer them on," said Smith.
That weekend is being organized by Katia Hadj-Hamou, a former player for current Head Coach Sherri Murrell, who credits Hadj-Hamou with "putting in many hours getting in touch with alums for that weekend."
Hadj-Hamou and Murrell are hoping that former players interested in coming will contact Hadj-Hamou at Katia.firstname.lastname@example.org. "Katia has really stepped up to help make this happen. We want this to be a very special weekend for everyone," Murrell said.