I’ll never forget going to the 2016 WNIT Championship game to watch my two older sisters – Allison and Bridget – win the tournament for the South Dakota Coyotes.
While I was happy to see my sisters win the WNIT for USD, their victory was far from my biggest takeaway.
I vividly remember the environment and atmosphere.
The game was held at USD’s home arena in Vermillion, South Dakota, which was crazy in its own right.
No one thought Vermillion could ever host a WNIT Championship game, but USD bid to host the game, knowing they would have the support of the community.
As someone who attended that game accompanied by thousands in a record-breaking crowd, I can promise you my sisters and the rest of the team had the backing of the entire city.
At that moment, I knew USD was where I wanted to be.
In a world where women’s sports is still trying to catch up to the men, USD was already there.
I saw it first-hand.
By going to USD to be a student-athlete and play basketball, I wouldn’t have to worry about inequality or lack of support for women’s sports.
I enrolled at USD during the 2017-2018 season, and by following in my sisters’ footsteps, I looked forward to continuing that legacy for such a respected program and university.
A competitive upbringing
I grew up in an extremely competitive and sports-oriented household in Crofton, Nebraska. I’m one of six kids, so having someone to always play with was a certainty.
My sisters have been tremendous role models in my life. Seeing them play together at USD on the same court was so inspirational, and it drove me to work as hard as I possibly could in order to accomplish the same goals.
When Allison and I got to play together at USD for my first two seasons, that was something we both cherished and never took for granted.
Continuing a legacy in high school is one thing, but to say the Arens name has been represented by the Coyotes from 2013-2021 means everything to Bridget, Allison, and me.
It just further emphasizes what a unique and exceptional place USD is for my family.
No one thought Vermillion could ever host a WNIT Championship game, but USD bid to host the game, knowing they would have the support of the community. As someone who attended that game accompanied by thousands in a record-breaking crowd, I can promise you my sisters and the rest of the team had the backing of the entire city. At that moment, I knew USD was where I wanted to be.
A realization on the road
I don’t think I had a complete grasp of what Title IX was until I got to USD.
I mentioned before that I’m from Crofton, which doesn’t even have 1,000 people, but you can feel the support of every last person in town.
The Crofton girls’ basketball team has a rich history and are regulars at the Nebraska State Basketball Tournament almost every year.
So I’ve always been spoiled by the support of my community since I started playing basketball at a young age.
I never knew any different.
Going back to the WNIT title game in Vermillion, watching my sisters play, I saw that same support – just on a massively larger scale.
Playing my basketball career in Crofton and Vermillion, the crowds helped raise my game because they showed that they cared and were fans of women’s basketball.
When I would play road games at USD, though, I quickly discovered the rest of the country didn’t always have the same support for the women’s game.
Traveling to different arenas, it became fairly obvious which universities and communities had a clear disparity in their support of the men’s and women’s game.
That became an eye-opening moment for me and why it’s so important to elevate the women’s game.
While it was sad to see the lack of support in some arenas across the country, it made me much more grateful to have the support I did in Crofton and especially at USD in my collegiate career.
I never came close to feeling like I was on the lesser team or that the women’s game didn’t matter as much.
Playing in front of thousands at every home game in Vermillion confirmed that.
Vermillion is special
When I graduated in 2021, that completed the eight-year stretch of the Arens sisters playing basketball at USD.
While all three of us were fortunate to have successful careers on the court, it’s the lessons we were able to apply off the court that made our time so impactful as student-athletes.
The confidence I was able to gain in myself and the obstacles I had to overcome in basketball have prepared me for everyday life.
And it never would have happened without the support I received at USD.
Between the coaches, fans, boosters, administration, and the community in general, they were there for me every step of the way.
USD means so much to my family in a million different ways, but above all else, the university and Vermillion community emphatically believe USD women’s basketball is a must-see sport and attraction.
Thank you, Allison and Bridget, for leading the way.