Late mother’s message fuels Ferris State junior Emily Evans on the court

POSITIVITY: Ferris State University junior Emily Evans dribbles during the 2015-16 season. (FSU Athletics photo)

POSITIVITY: Ferris State University junior Emily Evans dribbles during the 2015-16 season. (FSU Athletics photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Emily Evans’ mother would always tell her how powerful positive thinking can be.

No matter how somber life can be or how ominous circumstances can get, a positive attitude can go a long way in achieving happiness and success.

As difficult as it was for Evans to stay positive after her mother, Janice, died in August — one week before Ferris State University fall semester classes started — her mother’s positive message resonated with her, and she aimed to carry that fortitude into her junior season on FSU’s women’s basketball team.

“Emily is the most positive person I’ve ever met,” said sophomore teammate Rachel McInerney. “If you see her down, it’s a very rare occasion. That was how her mom was, and her dad. They were always very supportive.”

McInerney and the rest of the team made sure that support was reciprocated. When Evans called first-year coach Kendra Faustin to inform her of the news, Faustin and the rest of the team, along with several alumni who had played with Evans in the past, hopped on a bus and drove to Canton, Ohio, to attend the funeral.

“Just seeing them there, it meant the world to me, because not a lot of teams would do that,” Evans said fighting back tears. “It’s six hours away, so not a short bus ride. Being with this team has really helped me. They don’t pity me or anything, and that’s just what I need. I’m not a pity person. I don’t want all that attention on me, and they’ve just been themselves — their goofy selves — and I love them for that. They’re my sisters. I don’t have any sisters, so they mean the world to me.”

When Evans returned to practice in September, McInerney surprised her with a memorable keepsake.

“Rachel invited me to The Rock (Café) and she gave me this bracelet that says, ‘Power of positivity,’ because when my mom was in the hospital, she would always talk about the power of positive thinking. And positivity is one of our team’s core values, too, so it just made me really happy. It says her name on the other side, and on the inside it says, ‘Forever in our hearts.’ Our whole team wears them and it just makes me really happy.”

The team also gave Emily a signed jersey that reads, “In honor of Jan.”

BRACELETS: FSU team members and head coach Kendra Faustin show off their “Power of positivity” bracelets. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

BRACELETS: FSU team members and head coach Kendra Faustin show off their “Power of positivity” bracelets. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

“I see it every time I walk into my room,” Emily said.

Janice was in the hospital for five weeks and originally was diagnosed with mycoplasma pneumonia, a contagious respiratory infection. She was being treated with antibiotics but was not getting better.

“They did an open lung biopsy a week before she passed and found out she had cancer in her lungs,” Emily said. “She was having a lot of trouble breathing. She said she did not want to live like this and asked to be let go. The way I see it, she went exactly how she wanted to go, with all of her friends and family around her.”

Janice’s affability made her one of the players’ favorite parents.

“Emily’s mom was like a second mom to all of us,” said guard Katie Mavis, the only returning senior from last year’s team. “It was super heartbreaking. Her parents were at like every single game for us. We really got to know them quite a bit the past couple years. It was so devastating because they are such an awesome family.”

Fighting through adversity

The start of the 2015-16 season has been unlike any other for Faustin in her nine seasons as an NCAA head coach.

In addition to one of her players losing a parent, the Bulldogs have been riddled with injuries.

Christina Branch, who led the team in scoring last year, tore her labrum in her hip and is out for the season. Junior Ally Christman, who was third in scoring in 2014-15, tore her anterior cruciate ligament last spring and also is expected to miss all of this season.

Mavis, last season’s second-leading scorer, tore her meniscus in the fourth game of the season and is expected to be out until February.

FSU had eight healthy players as of Dec. 17, none of whom are seniors. Zero players in the current starting lineup played more than 13 minutes per game last season. FSU lost its first six games, but that has not been a reason to make excuses.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue,” Faustin said. “We’ve had laughs, we’ve had tears and we’ve been angry. You talk about the spectrum of emotions, we’ve gone through them all. Just because we have a lot of fun and we stay positive doesn’t mean I don’t challenge them. We’ve been challenged a lot in practice. We’ve learned a lot from our failures in practice and learned a lot from our failures on the court.”

Faustin has preached the core values of the program all season, and those conversations are beginning to yield results.

On Dec. 11, the Bulldogs earned their first win of the season, outscoring Ohio Dominican University 15-11 in the fourth quarter to claim a 69-66 victory. It was a game that was a microcosm of their season thus far.

McInerney, this season’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game, was injured in the first two minutes of the third quarter and did not return. Freshman forward Abby Nakfoor, the team’s third-leading scorer, fouled out in the third quarter, requiring Evans, a guard, to move to forward.

“I was just so impressed with our resolve and resiliency, because just in that one game alone, we had a lot of adversity,” Faustin said. “Nobody looked around like, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Emily, can you play the four (position)?’ She said she could figure it out and she just rolled in there and didn’t miss a beat. I think if we hadn’t gone through all the adversity earlier in the season, we wouldn’t have been successful in that game. There’s no way. We talk about getting better every day and we certainly took a big step forward.”

FSU took another step forward two days later, outscoring Tiffin 29-14 in the second half to earn a 55-46 victory.

“It’s a compliment to them,” Faustin said of her players. “I know we’ve stuck together, and that always hasn’t been easy. I know we’ve had some really hard conversations. We talked and decided we had two options: We could stay positive and stay together, or we could quit and be miserable — and not for one second was that an option for us.

“I know we have had to focus on defining success in our own way. We have had some people from the outside not be very supportive of our record. We’ve had to stand up for what we believe in, move on and stay positive and not let that affect us.”

Evans said if the team continues to stay positive, the Bulldogs will continue to prosper.

“Everyone has had to step into these roles that they may or may not have been ready for, and I think everyone has fully owned up to their role,” she said. “Everyone has that accountability and knows we are going to keep battling and we are going to be successful.”

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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