The Saint Francis women's basketball team was scheduled to play its first game in the NAIA National Championship at 5:15 p.m. on March 12. Around 1 p.m. that afternoon, the remainder of the tournament was canceled because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
It was the end of a successful season for the Cougars, who finished 23-7 and grabbed third place in the loaded Crossroads League, and the end of the college careers of seniors Savannah Buck and Kara Gerka.
For Buck, a Homestead graduate who departs Saint Francis second in program history in assists, third in steals and seventh in rebounds, it also meant she would never again get to be coached by her father, Steve Buck, one of the Cougars' assistants.
Father and daughter had envisioned a moment at the end of the season when Steve would greet Savannah as she exited the game for the final time. With the sudden cancellation of the tournament, that moment never came to pass.
“As a dad who's coaching his daughter, you kind of envision that last game when her career comes to an end, she comes off the court and you get to give her a hug, tell her what a joy it's been to watch her play and how proud of her you are,” Steve Buck said. “So selfishly, it was disappointing to not have that moment with her.
“We kind of did that in the AAU circuit when we finished up, but getting this new opportunity to coach her again was great and I'm very thankful (the Saint Francis coaches) let me be a part of it, but I was really looking forward to having that moment with her. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.”
The elder Buck had coached his daughter beginning when she was in third grade and up through the end of her time in AAU basketball before she went on to play in college. At the time her AAU career ended, both believed that his days coaching her were over, as well, but prior to this season Cougars coach Jason Ridge mentioned to his point guard that he would like to bring in another coach, but the budget for such a hire was thin. She suggested that Steve would probably be willing to help and after a meeting between Ridge and the elder Buck, he became part of Ridge's staff.
Steve Buck said he might not have accepted the position had his daughter been an underclassman, to avoid any appearance of favoritism.
“With her being a senior, her role was very well-established on the team, we didn't think it would be any issue,” Steve said. “Really the timing of it was just such that it worked out great.”
Savannah enjoyed having her father back on the bench again and she was disappointed, as well, that she didn't get to have that final moment with him when she left the court for the last time.
“Just having the opportunity to play for my dad again was super special and it helped create even further of a bond between us,” she said. “His main message to me was that he was just so proud of me and the person that I am and the player that I've become.”
Despite the unexpectedly early end to the season, however, Steve has made it clear to his daughter in the weeks since that coaching her meant a great deal to him.
“Through the years he's loved watching me grow, so he was really heartbroken, but he just wanted to tell me how proud he was of me and how good of a journey this has been for both of us,” Savannah said. “We've learned so much about each other and so much about ourselves and these are just some of the memories I'll get to take away with me for the rest of my life.”
Steve Buck plans to return to the Saint Francis sideline as an assistant coach for at least the 2020-21 season.