There are those rare days when Ann Sarkisian wonders if it's all worth it.
The practices. The bus rides. The demanding academic load.
Coupled with a lack of playing time, they make a strong case for the Valparaiso High School graduate giving up basketball and simply being an English literature student.
And then there are shining moments like Saturday in Holland, Mich., where DePauw won the NCAA Division III national championship, that trump everything.
"There are definitely days that are harder than others, thinking about what's going to happen on Friday," Sarkisian said. "Then that selfish thinking is overridden by the joy of playing with my teammates. They're my best friends. I'm not here for myself. I'm not here for the individual success maybe I had in high school. The people, the camaraderie, it's something that's greater than me. That's why I'm here."
The Tigers finished a 34-0 season with a 69-51 win over Wisconsin-Whitewater. A 59-56 semifinal victory against Williams was the only time anyone came within single digits of them.
"It really was a perfect season, and not just going undefeated," Sarkisian said. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. We sent a group text (Monday), saying how much we much we miss each other, reminding each other we are national champions. It's what you dream about, what you hope for, but now that we are, it's like, what do we do with it? I'm so grateful, so excited."
As a Valpo senior, Sarkisian was close to going to Denison (Ohio). She had a visit planned for DePauw, but wasn't even going to go until her dad Jim urged her to follow through with it. She met coach Kris Huffman, who has built the school into a D-III powerhouse in her 20 years in Greencastle, team members and acclaimed English Literature professor Andrea Sununu, and promptly changed her mind.
"I fell in love with (DePauw) instantly," Sarkisian said. "Everything fell into place."
In Sarkisian's three years, DePauw has gone 86-6. She's seen action in just 27 of those 92 games, scoring a grand total of 13 points.
"It's not about one person," Sarkisian said. "(Huffman) calls us 'sticky' with each other. We've got five, six players who could be all-Americans, but everyone's so unselfish. It's very much a team effort. I have the utmost respect for my teammates who are ahead of me. It makes it easier to come to practice every day, knowing what you're working for and who you're working with."
The team received a police escort back to campus Sunday, where they were greeted by students and faculty. Monday morning at 9, it was back to class for Sarkisian, who aspires to be a college professor and teach English abroad after graduating next spring. She had two mid-terms Tuesday, one of which was re-scheduled from last week, and a paper due Friday.
"I walked into class, I was maneuvering to get a seat, and one of the girls who was at the game said, 'Oh, sorry, national champion,'" Sarkisian said. "We were talking about (the game) the first five minutes. Everybody's so supportive on campus. We're not a huge D-I school, where it's so intense about sports, but it was exciting for them to make you feel like a D-I at least for a week."