If all had gone right, Mady Burdett and the Whitman College women’s basketball team would have been playing for an NCAA Division III national championship this past weekend.
Instead, the sporting fates were particularly cruel to Burdett in the timing of the curtain being drawn on the sports world, and her college career came to an abrupt end just as it was about to reach its pinnacle.
Nevertheless, the Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate is taking her misfortune in stride.
Burdett, a star senior guard for the Blues, is philosophical about her career ending in such heartbreaking fashion.
“My immediate thought was, ‘Wow, I’m never going to play again,’ and I didn’t have that closure,” Burdett said last week from Walla Walla. “But then I realized that everything happens for a reason. I wish it could go on, but it couldn’t have ended in a better way — we ended with a win, that’s something most teams that make the tournament don’t get to experience, and that’s a positive in all this.”
Burdett and the Blues were in the Sweet 16 when the hammer came down on the NCAA tournaments on March 12, as sporting events were shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Indeed, Burdett was the spotlight player in Whitman’s two NCAA tournament victories. The Blues, ranked No. 10 in the D3hoops.com national poll at the time, were forced to play their first two NCAA tournament games without Northwest Conference Player of the Year Makana Stone, who was sidelined because of a concussion. So Whitman was a big underdog when it traveled to Waverly, Iowa, for the first two rounds.
But Burdett stepped up big-time. She scored a team-high 22 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining in overtime, in an 86-83 victory over Wheaton in the opening round on March 6. Then against host and fifth-ranked Wartburg the next night, Burdett scored a game-high 16 points, including the go-ahead free throws with 16 seconds remaining, as Whitman won 67-63 to advance to the Sweet 16.
With Stone, a Coupeville High School graduate, set to return for the Sweet 16 game against No. 11 Oglethorpe on March 13 in Brunswick, Maine, Burdett said she believed the Blues’ time had arrived.
“I genuinely thought no one could beat us now,” said Burdett, who tasted that stage of the tournament as a freshman when she was a reserve for the Whitman team that reached the Elite Eight in 2017. “We were at our prime, we were playing our best basketball, and then we were adding Makana back. It was a collective awakening of, ‘We are good, we can do this.’”
Burdett took a separate flight to Maine on March 12, isolating herself from the rest of the team because she was fighting off a case of strep throat, but she had every intention of playing. When her plane landed she checked her phone and discovered the news that the tournament had been canceled.
“It was crazy,” Burdett said. “As the airplane touched down, I turned airplane mode off and got all the messages that the tournament was canceled. I was away from my team and I was bawling in the airport. I wanted to be with them to go through that together. It was a very emotional experience.”
Whitman finished the season 26-3. The Blues were ranked No. 6 in the final poll. Burdett, a first-team All-Northwest Conference selection, finished the season averaging 13.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Burdett returned to Whitman, where she plans on spending the remainder of the school year attending her classes online. Campus has shut down, so most of the Whitman students have returned home. However, Burdett shares a house with some of her teammates, and the seniors on the team decided to finish out the school year together.
Although Burdett’s career ended in stunning fashion, and although she was deprived of the chance to see whether this Whitman team was capable of winning a national championship, she’s made her peace with the situation.
“To not see where it could take us is heartbreaking,” Burdett said. “But looking at it now, it’s something to be proud of. The issue of the virus is something that’s getting worse, you have to look at the bigger picture, and the sacrifice had to be done. I just hope things get better with it all.”