No. 15 will be back on the bench when the Western Washington University women's basketball team takes on Nova Southeastern in the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Tournament on Tuesday, March 26, in San Antonio.
Senior Erika Ramstead won't actually get to step on the court during the game - a season-ending broken bone in her foot ensured that - but for the first time in more than two months she'll be wearing Western's blue and white on game day rather than street clothes.
"I'll be wearing the uniform proud," Ramstead said in a phone interview from the River Walk. "I'll get to suit up for the entire trip. ... I'm so excited. No crutches; no boot just regular shoes and being out there with my teammates."
After the last two months that Ramstead has been through, there's definitely no place she would rather be.
It will mark the first time the senior has dressed since the first of the year.
It couldn't have come at a better time, with the Vikings (28-3) making the second Elite Eight appearance in the program's storied history and the first since 2000, when they advanced to the national semifinals.
"It's something I've never been a part of before, and it's something I really wanted to do before I was done," Ramstead said. "Last spring, when we started to work together, we set the goal of getting to Texas. We kept saying 'GNAC and beyond' and 'Regional and beyond.' Now we've done that. A lot of times you set lofty goals and you never reach them. But we made it."
Even though she won't actually play, making the Elite Eight means just as much to Ramstead as any other WWU women's or men's player in uniform this week quite possibly more.
"I'm just excited to be a part of it," Ramstead said. "I'm excited to be here. Just to walk into the hotel and seeing all the NCAA banners down the street. They're making a big deal out of it down here, and it's amazing to be a part of it."
The feelings of excitement and enthusiasm that Ramstead has now are in stark contrast to what she felt just two months ago.
Ramstead said she began to notice something was wrong with her foot in late November. As someone who had "bad ankles," she figured it was something to do with that.
But after the second game of the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic Dec. 19 in Las Vegas, she said she only played a half before the pain became so great, "I could barely walk."
When things didn't get better during the holiday break, Western had the foot X-rayed. The news that came back on Jan. 19 obviously was not good, as she learned that that her season was done, effectively ending her college basketball playing career with it.
"I don't think anybody is ever ready to hear that they're done playing," Ramstead said.
But as unfortunate as that news was, it was far from the worst reality Ramstead had to face that week.
Only four days earlier, Ramstead's father, longtime Everson police chief Erik Ramstead, died at age 50 after battling cancer.
"If you could write a nightmare, that would be one of the worst ones you could ever dream up," Western coach Carmen Dolfo said in a phone interview. "I can't imagine anything worse. To lose your senior year as an athlete is devastating. You think about how much time and work goes into it that itself is horrible. The other part of that, losing a parent ... you can't touch how difficult that is. To have them both happen in the same week?"
By the time Dolfo and her coaching staff delivered the doctor's prognosis, Ramstead said she "felt dead to everything."
But the thing that got her through it all, Ramstead said, was basketball.
Though the broken bone took away her ability to play the game this season, it didn't take away her ability to be a part of the team.
And it certainly didn't take away her teammates many of whom considered the Ramsteads, who often had the team over for meals and still continue to attend games both home and away when they can, a second family.
"They've really helped me through a lot of these hard emotional times," Ramstead said. "At my dad's funeral, they were two or three rows behind us. ... They've always been right there for me. I think basketball and my teammates are what got me through a lot of tough times these last two months."
In fact, Dolfo said the team has rallied around Ramstead.
"She relies on them, and they rely on her," Dolfo said. "It's been painful for every one of us. I think it's brought us closer together as a team and given us a purpose. I think Erika has got a lot of great teammates that love her and will do anything for her."
And Ramstead, in turn, will do anything for her team.
The first game after her father's funeral was a Jan. 24 trip to Central Washington.
"She was so sick, she was throwing up," Dolfo said. "The girls on the team were like, 'Erika, we understand if you don't go,' but she was going. We had to put her in a car for the trip over, and she was throwing up the entire way, but she refused not to go. I can remember her sleeping on the floor of the locker room before the game, but she made it there for her teammates."
The former Nooksack Valley three-sport standout isn't just a cheerleader at the end of the bench, either.
With four years of experience, Ramstead has taken an active role in helping her team, giving them advice in practice and serving almost like an extra student assistant on Dolfo's staff a role she plans to actually take on next season as she said she plans to consider a career in coaching.
"Erika is a tremendous leader and a very bright basketball player," Dolfo said. "She was a great passer and defender, because she saw the floor so well. She made things happen for us. I think she's doing a great job of doing many of the same things from the sideline that she used to do on the floor. She tries to encourage, and she tries to motivate. She's stepped in and embraced that role."
And the team, which wears the initials "ER" on its left shoulder in memory of Erik, has embraced her back, Ramstead said, giving her the support she's needed to get through the most difficult two months of her life.
"To be honest, I don't think I've let everything sink in," Ramstead said. "I've just been focusing on living in the moment with this team. Probably reality will hit me in a week and a half or so, when we're all done. I miss my father every single day. He loved every one of my teammates like his own. He loved being a part of this team physically. I know he's still with us in spirit."
He certainly would have been smiling one week ago, when the Vikings beat Simon Fraser in the West Regional championship game to advance to the Elite Eight.
After the game, WWU seniors Corinn Waltrip, Britt Harris and Trishi Williams each took turns climbing a ladder at the west end of Sam Carver Gymnasium to cut down a piece of the net in celebration of the title. When they had gone, Ramstead got her turn to gingerly climb the ladder wearing street clothes.
When she descended, Waltrip was there waiting with a tear-filled embrace.
"Corinn's been like a sister to me the last couple of years," Ramstead said. "My parents kind of took her in as a freshmen, and they just think of her as another daughter. I just remember her pointing to the ER on her jersey and saying, 'We did this for your dad.'
"He would have been so proud of us. I can picture him wearing that big goofy grin, sitting up there watching us. He would have loved this. He really wanted to go to Texas with us. I'm sure he'll be looking down and enjoying it."
WOMEN'S ELITE EIGHT
Tuesday, March 26
At San Antonio, Texas
Augustana (S.D.) vs. Clayton State, 10 a.m.
Dowling vs. Colorado Mesa, 12:30 p.m.
Nova Southeastern vs. Western Washington, 4 p.m.
Gannon vs. Ashland, 6:30 p.m.
All times PDT
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.