GARY — Gary Roach sat atop the stands at the Savannah Center, alongside his wife, and in his hand was a little black book.
He opened it and wrote a few things down moments before the Indiana University Northwest women’s basketball team took on St. Francis (Illinois). The RedHawks came in ranked No. 23 in the country and the Saints entered the contest ranked No. 14. It was a marquee matchup between two solid NAIA Division II programs that St. Francis won 73-53 Monday.
It wasn’t the outcome he had hoped for, but regardless, Roach kept stats on each of IU Northwest's players, including his daughter. Grayce Roach is a fifth-year senior and starting guard for the RedHawks, and for as long as she can remember her father has always kept track of what happens on the hardwood.
“He’s crazy,” Grayce Roach said. “He’s been doing it probably my entire life. As soon as they would start putting (stats) in the newspaper, whatever grade that was, he’s been at it.”
She flashed a smile when reminiscing about her father's support. He's been there since the beginning, including when she was injured at the start of her freshman year. And now her mom and dad are determined to see every game of her last season — honoring their daughter's commitment until the very end.
Gary Roach has gone through plenty of books over the years, and Grayce Roach has continued to keep her father busy as she closes out her career.
She ranks third all-time in scoring in women’s basketball at IU Northwest and also ranks third in assists. The Hobart graduate has scored 1,706 points in her career and has totaled 369 assists since joining the program in 2014.
And in Monday’s game against St. Francis, Grayce Roach made sure to garner her dad’s attention once again. She scored IU Northwest’s first points with a pair of free throws, dished an assist to junior guard Ashley O’Malley for a layup and scored again on a driving right-handed layup to account for the RedHawks’ first six points.
“She was a good player in high school,” Gary Roach said. “But she had a lot more hidden potential that I think has come out here. She’s assumed her role and in taking that on, I guess it’s kind of a burden. But at the same time, she realizes what she has to do for the team.”
Grayce Roach cooled off after her hot start and finished with 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting, while committing four turnovers. But when she exited the locker room following the 20-point defeat she didn’t hang her head or sulk about her team’s performance.
Her plan was simply to regroup and move onto the next game against Wright State-Lake (Ohio) on Saturday because during her previous campaign she didn’t have much of an opportunity to bounce back or even compete due to a serious injury.
“It was her right hand, her pinkie,” said Kari Roach, Grayce Roach’s mother. “She has a plate in there holding her pinkie together and onto her hand.”
Change of plans
Grayce Roach broke her right hand in the third game of what should have been her final season with the RedHawks last year. On Nov. 1, 2017, in a play just before overtime against Indiana University-South Bend at home, she tripped over a few players and fell awkwardly.
She knew something was wrong right away and sat out for the remainder of IU Northwest’s seven-point loss. And when she went to the doctor, the extent of her injury was initially underestimated and she was assured she would be able to return before the end of the season.
“They told me with the spiral fracture that I had, it could be fixed with two pins,” Grayce Roach said. “And then the day of my surgery the doctor comes in as I’m about to be sedated and says, ‘Oh, we have to put a plate in there. You’ll be out and can probably come back after three months.”
The turn of events shocked Grayce Roach, and the first thing she thought about was basketball. A recovery time of that length figured to sideline her for the rest of the season, and she immediately became upset about what she assumed was the end of her career.
But as she was trying to come to terms with the news, Kari Roach stepped in to comfort her daughter and assure her that her playing days weren’t over. All Grayce Roach had to do was file for a medical redshirt, focus on graduating with a bachelor of science in communications and hopefully use the extra season to return to the court and earn a master’s degree.
“It actually bought her time to figure out what she wanted to do when she finished school,” Kari Roach said. “She’s working on her master’s degree (in public affairs). She knows some day she wants to coach. She also knows she’ll never not play. She’ll play on pick-up teams, and she knows that now. She didn’t know that last year.”
Grayce Roach said her love for basketball goes beyond playing, and she enjoys teaching the game to younger players. When she was in high school, she helped start a youth basketball program for children in her neighborhood. She worked to translate their joy for the game into skills they could someday use in competition.
And after being around Ryan Shelton, IU Northwest’s head women’s basketball coach and athletics director, nearly every day over the past five years, she feels that the next step in her career will mirror his.
“He goes above and beyond not only for me but for everybody,” Grayce Roach said. “I see it every day. I notice the little things. For my future, I want to go into athletic directing or just administration in athletics in general. And so now I really do realize all of the little things that he does. And I know it because he lets me know every day how much I mean to him.”
One last hurrah
Shelton is in his 12th season with the RedHawks and throughout the hundreds of games he’s coached and dozens of players he’s guided, he considers Grayce Roach to be one of the best. In addition to her success on the court, Shelton believes she also is the epitome of what a student-athlete should be off of it.
“Grayce checks all of the boxes,” Shelton said. “She’s a leader. She’s a great student. So when you have people that can do all of those things, those are the most valuable players you have in your program. And when people ask, ‘What do I gotta do to be like that?’ Well, not everybody can. That’s just the bottom line.”
Shelton said he is thankful the NAIA granted Grayce Roach another year of eligibility so she could finish out her final campaign on her own terms.
He knew the recovery process would be tough, but it wasn’t the first time Shelton saw his standout guard face adversity and overcome it. Before her freshman season, Grayce Roach underwent jaw surgery and didn't recover until the 2014-15 campaign was underway.
After eight years of wearing braces, she said the procedure was necessary to fix an alignment issue she had with her jaw that her dentist initially thought was caused by her teeth. The only way to alleviate the problem permanently was to have a surgeon break her jaw and reset it.
“I told Coach Shelton, ‘Sept. 3 is the day of the surgery,’” Grayce Roach said. “Sept. 3, 2014. And he said, ‘Alright, I trust you, and I know you’ll come back.’ And I said, ‘I promise I will be strong.’ I had my mouth wired shut for a month and a half, and I trained every single day. I ran with it wired shut.”
The only way Grayce Roach could eat during that time was by blending all of her food into puree and injecting it into the back of her mouth by using a syringe. It was a tedious and painful process, but she did everything she needed to return to action as quickly as possible.
In her third game back, IU Northwest had a road game against Olivet Nazarene. Not only did Grayce Roach play, she started for the first time and shined. The then-freshman scored a game-high 28 points — nailing four 3-pointers — and snagged nine rebounds.
Kari Roach said that out of all of the moments in her daughter’s career, her performance against the Tigers is the one that makes her the proudest.
“She had to have her entire face rebuilt from the inside out,” Kari Roach said. “She has 10 to 15 plates in her jaw as well.”
When Grayce Roach talks about her injuries, she isn’t shy or reserved about what she’s gone through. She knows that injuries are a part of basketball and life, and most of the time they are unavoidable. So instead of moving forward with fear of the worst happening, she is choosing to live out her last season with the optimism that something special can and will take place before it’s all over.
The RedHawks are 17-6 overall, 5-1 in the Association of Independent Institutions conference and Grayce Roach is leading the charge with 15.3 points, 4.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
In her career she has has been named the 2015 A.I.I. Conference Freshman of the Year and a 2017 Dakstats National Scholar Athlete. Grayce Roach also was named A.I.I. All-Conference three times, but she still thinks there is more in store on her journey before she takes off her IU Northwest jersey for the final time.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Grayce Roach said. “But I want to make sure during my last game that I play in my career, I can walk away and say, ‘I did leave it all out there, and I’m not in regret at all.’”