2003 NCCAA Women's Basketball Team
The 2002-2003 Taylor University Fort Wayne (TUFW) Lady Falcons, coached by Corey Laster g93, was arguably the best women’s basketball team in the school’s history, with a sparkling 26-4 record and a fifth place finish in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) II National Tournament in Auburn, Maine.
Coach Laster, who was already filling multiple roles at TUFW, directed a program that had gone just 4-20 the season before he took over (1999-2000), but he soon taught his Falcons to soar. In their first year of flight under his direction (2000-2001), the Lady Falcons went 13-7. Then, in 2001-2002, they flew out to a 10-2 mark, only to have a series of injuries bring them back to earth finishing 16-10. Katie Broecker g04, who had averaged 26.4 points per game as a freshman (2000-2001), was among those struggling with injuries that year, but she still averaged 20.3 as a sophomore. Katie rebounded in the double digits both years. The USCAA II awarded her First Team All-American honors in 2002.
The new season (2002-2003) welcomed back just four players from the previous year: Katie, a junior from Milford, Ohio; and three sophomores, Lori Evans fs05 (Fort Wayne), Ginger Robbins g05 (Eliot, Maine), and Cicely Wright g05 (Fort Wayne), though Lori ended up not playing due to injury. They were joined by one junior, Amy Edmonds g04 (Kendallville, Indiana), and eight freshmen: Danielle “Dee Dee” Anderson fs06 (Terra Haute, Indiana), Rebecca Eleiott g07 (Lockport, Illinois), Elizabeth Garrasi g06 (Schenectady, New York), Cyndi Lee g06 (Defiance, Ohio), Megan Mattson fs06 (Fort Wayne), Joanie Muhlenkamp g06 (Bryant, Indiana), Adria Spahiev fs06(Fort Wayne), and Rachel Walden fs06 (Mount Vernon, Indiana).
Despite all the new faces, Coach Laster and Volunteer Assistant Sarita Rubrake g92, set ambitious goals, including the first 20-win season in the program’s history. His young charges would do even better than he initially projected.
Cyndi remembers a pre-season retreat at a cabin near Frankenmuth, Michigan, that proved crucial for bonding together a team with so many newcomers. The women also spent time playing open gym at Fellowship Missionary Church, where Coach Laster was on the ministerial staff as Benevolence Coordinator. Dee Dee tried to teach her teammates a dance called the “Sea Walk.” Her twin sister, LaNeita “Nee Nee” Anderson, helped with stats, while their mother sent memorable home cooking to the team. The squad soon developed an unusual sense of camaraderie that extended to high-spirited hijinks in the dorm and enduring friendships.
The season opened with four straight wins over Ancilla College, Warren Wilson College, Rochester College, and Wright State University-Lake Campus, before stumbling in a close one at the University of St. Francis.
Nine more victories followed over well-known schools, a number of them blowouts. The Falcons feasted on Cincinnati Bible College (twice), Rochester College, Circleville Bible College, Grace Bible College, Asbury College, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Concordia University, Marygrove College, and Ancilla College (again).
Despite their success, relatively few fans came to their games. Nevertheless, the team did attract some super fans that came to every home game, made shirts with the players’ names on them, and even managed to attend some away games. The super fans were friends Katie had made while working at Kitty Hawk by the airport—Che Gilbert, Capen Apple, Mark Skaggs, and Ken Holmes. Their enthusiastic support helped make up for any lack of numbers, and the four still remain in contact with team members such as Megan.
Cross-town rival Indiana Institute of Technology halted the highflying Falcons in mid-January, when the Warriors revenged home-and-away losses from the previous year. But the Falcons hopped back up and took off again, downing Moody Bible Institute (twice), Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College, Indiana University Northwest (twice), Wright State (again), Michigan-Dearborn (again), Grace Bible (again), Circleville (again), and Rochester (again).
The Falcons’ third loss came during their second-to-last game, played away at Concordia University, a team they had beaten solidly back at home in December. The Falcons fell by three. They wrapped up their schedule with a resounding win at Marygrove. Their stellar 25-3 regular season mark would earn the Lady Falcons a bid to the USCAA II National Tournament in Maine.
The Falcons were confronted with the unenviable task of taking on the host team, Central Maine Tech, on their home floor, and fell in the opening round, 60-77. But they bounced back to win their next and final game handily, 71-41, demolishing Paul Smith’s College.
More than one team member remembers that trip especially for the solidarity that grew from some unlikely experiences. Several recalled the “cheap hotel” where they were booked during the tournament. The hotel normally served truckers, seemed “creepy,” and lacked basic amenities such as bath towels. Such an incident, however bizarre or frustrating at the time, would later seem hilarious.
Other memorable moments included Amy’s success in the three-point shooting contest and the opportunity Coach Laster and Cyndi had to help with radio commentary for a game between other teams at the tournament.
Megan, who had enjoyed an outstanding season as a freshman, earned USCAA II First Team All-American honors. Katie, whose scoring had dropped to the mid-teens in her third year but who was still snaring just over ten caroms a game, would be recognized by the USCAA II a second year in a row, this time as an Honorable Mention All-American. She would also be named team MVP.
When Lori got married after the season, her reception became the first team “reunion” and the celebration of a very special season as the women passed a basketball around the dance floor.
While the Lady Falcons’ success that season would never be replicated on the TUFW hardcourt by another women’s basketball team, their hard work foreshadowed personal achievements in other arenas down through the years. Here are some snapshots:
Coach Corey Laster (wife Holly) left TUFW after the 2002-2003 season and continued his coaching career at Saint Michael’s College, Vermont (assistant); Defiance College, Ohio; Bucknell University, Pennsylvania (assistant); the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Gordon College, Massachusetts. He was inducted as a player and a coach into the Fort Wayne Campus Athletic Hall of Fame in April 2011.
Katie Brocker would become a missionary to Haiti, working with orphans, until she unexpectedly died in her sleep on October 27, 2007. She would be inducted posthumously into the Fort Wayne Campus Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class in September 2008.
Amy (Edmonds) Johnson is married to John, and they have two children, and live in the Indianapolis area. She has taught special education for eight years at an elementary school in Carmel, Indiana.
Rebecca Eleiott taught at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels in the United States for seven years. She then moved to Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala, working with Adonai International Ministries, teaching high school English there two years and now serving as assistant director.
Lori (Evans) Kramer lives in Fort Wayne with her husband, Joshua, and has four children, Halle, Malachi, Claire, and Autumn.
Cyndi (Lee) Brown lives with her husband, Jeremiah, and two sons, Micaiah and Josiah, in Noblesville, Indiana. She works with Kaplan University in Admissions. Cyndi was inducted into the Defiance (Ohio) High School Hall of Fame in May 2016 as part of the team that advanced to the Regional Finals in 1999-2000, the furthest any women’s team has gone at Defiance.
Megan (Mattson) Blaugh graduated with a criminal justice degree and lives in Sarasota, Florida, with her husband, Zac, and their two daughters, Vayda and Riley. She worked as a surgical technician for a plastic surgeon for six years and still plays basketball weekly in the Sarasota Rec League.
oanie (Muhlenkamp) Shirk lives in Celina, Ohio, with her husband, Willis, and three sons, Robert, Elijah, and Isaac. She works at Fort Wayne Metals as the Global Customer Service Manager.
Rachel (Walden) Toon and her husband, Nathan, live in Mount Vernon, Indiana, with their three children, Trinity, Israel, and Ruach. Rachel works as a nurse across the state line at Methodist Hospital in Henderson, Kentucky. For a while, she was a travel nurse and the family moved with her to New York, Texas, Kentucky, and California. The family is active at Agape Family Ministries in Mount Vernon.
Assistant Coach Sarita Rubrake g92 worked for TUFW in the mailroom until 2009. Since then she has helped troubled teens in North Carolina and now works with young people with disabilities in Jacksonville, Florida.