March 5, 2012

The Will Of Ward

By Meredith Cook
Special to goholycross.com

There's a saying that goes "one is the loneliest number." For many, being one can truly be a lonely thing. However, for Holy Cross senior women's basketball player Meredith Ward, being the only senior, and the team's only captain, has nothing to do with being alone. Ward, who was named a tri-captain her junior season, became the team's sole captain this season for the first time since 2000-2001, when Monika Rothemich was appointed the role. From the day she was selected the team leader, Ward knew exactly what she needed to do in order to fully take on the role. "When they told me that I was going to be captain initially, I was ready for it," said Ward. "Knowing that they wanted me to do it by myself showed me that my team and coaches had the confidence in me. I knew that I was ready to make an important change to this team in some way."

What makes Ward unique is not the numbers she puts up when she's on the court, but her overall presence as the team's number one fan and true supporter. When making the decision to play basketball at Holy Cross, Ward knew one thing. "I knew I wanted to be part of a family," commented Ward. "I was just really comfortable here. With the team I really felt like I could just sit in the coach's office and talk to them about anything. I felt like I fit in perfectly with this group."

Over her last four seasons, Ward has witnessed the team going through many peaks and valleys. After back-to-back 10-win seasons, Ward decided it was up to her to put her foot down for change. Working with the coaches over the summer, Ward knew that the past was behind them and they were ready to start anew. "Over the offseason we made a list of team rules and the main thing was to hold each other accountable,"said Ward. "Little things, like not being late and having a clean locker room are everyone's responsibility now. Me implementing those little rules and making sure everyone is on the same page with them is a small change, but a big one."

From the coach's standpoint, it was a no brainer that Ward had the capability to lead the charge for change. "We felt as a staff that Meredith had really matured over the years," quoted head coach Bill Gibbons. "From our meetings with her at the end of last season, we had seen a maturity and readinesses to lead this team, hold people accountable, change the mentality a little bit and get us back. It was a pretty easy decision for us because we saw it in her eyes." It was Gibbons that originally recruited Ward out of Westerly High School in Rhode Island, and the bond that they've formed over the years has turned into a key component for why this year's team has what Ward calls "it." "My relationship with Coach Gibbons has definitely grown," continued Ward. "He's always pushed me really hard and expected a lot out of me. I've really grown as a player by learning from him and taking his coaching style seriously. I've really become a stronger and better person on and off the court."

That "it" factor is a big reason why Holy Cross is back on the right track to success. "We are an extremely close team this season," mentioned Ward. "I like to make relationships with everyone. No one is left out. When we do things, we do them together. Like I said before, we are all accountable." One thing for certain is that Ward and the entire team wants to win. Knowing that it's been four seasons since getting a bid to the Big Dance serves as pure motivation. "Everyone has one main goal, a Patriot League championship," concluded Ward. "We all know our roles this season and how to use them to win. In some ways, I think we have the best bench in the league! No matter what anyone's playing time is, or how many points they score, we all work so hard together to get the results we want. With everyone's eyes on the prize, Ward keeps the bar high, setting the standards for others on the team to follow. "Meredith has always had an important role on this team," continued Gibbons. "In terms of the xs and os, she's been able to take a lesser role on the court, instead of acquiring an ego of the lone senior captain. She makes this team better as she's emerged behind the scenes, doing the grunt work. That's what makes her the true team captain and illustrates the best example anyone can follow."

In 2000-2001, Monika Rothemich led the Holy Cross women's basketball team to a 21-9 record and its sixth bid to the NCAA Tournament. But instead of posting top team numbers, Rothemich focused on what Ward is instilling in this season's team today, leading by example. "Very similar to Monika, Meredith has led by example and does what it takes to make us a true team," finished Gibbons. "I'm very proud of the way Meredith has done that. I think it takes an individual of character to shun the spotlight in order to know your role and make your team better."

With Rothemich's success as a perfect example, Ward is combining lessons from the past along with her natural leadership qualities. With both tools as guidance, the lone Crusader senior captain is proving why Holy Cross is, and always has been, the team to beat.

This story appears in the 2012 Patriot League Tournament program, which will be available for purchase at host sites for both the men and women's tournaments.