SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – There was one more important item on the agenda for Ashland University's women's basketball team prior to its first on-site Elite Eight practice on Sunday (March 18) – a trip to LifeScape Children's Hospital and School for a community engagement activity.
LifeScape Children's Hospital is an independent, non-profit organization in Sioux Falls. According to Michelle Treasure, the coordinator of sports services for one of the residential halls at LifeScape, it is an organization that serves both children and adults with disabilities.
After a quick tour of the hospital, it was time to go to the gym for introductions and a basketball demonstration. The team introduced itself one-by-one to the assembled group, then it was time for those in attendance to get to know the team better – and play hoops with the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II which is on a 71-game winning streak.
And, then, there was the appearance from Tuffy The Eagle – for whom the biggest applause came.
The hour-long visit concluded with handing out mini-basketballs, signing autographs and a team huddle with some of the kids.
"A lot of them are really, really big sports fans," Treasure said. "We attend a lot of local sports events, and try to support our local teams. So to have the Division II championships here in Sioux Falls is a really cool opportunity for these guys to see something at another level.
"They (the kids) love to interact, and they are all very respectful people. They love to introduce themselves and have the opportunity to meet new people."
For sophomore guard/forward Sara Loomis, this is the second consecutive season having the opportunity to take part in an Elite Eight community engagement activity. Last year, the Eagles did a basketball demonstration at St. Catherine School in Columbus, Ohio.
"It's much more than just basketball," Loomis said. "They just make a huge impact on us. Just having fun with them and seeing what they like to do and spending time with them is great.
"I think we get just as much out of it, because they're fun to be around and they have such big hearts."
Both Loomis and freshman forward Karlee Pireu agreed that the children in attendance on Sunday "melted their hearts."
"It's an awesome opportunity to be able to come and be a part of something like this," Pireu said. "To branch out of the basketball world and just reach out to a new community. It's adorable. They have the biggest hearts, and just bring a joy to the room."