A night for Lauren: Oregon beats Concordia in memory of fallen teammate
Everywhere you looked, Lauren Jones was there.
The parking attendees wore “Ducks Fly Together” shirts with the No. 51 on the back in bright yellow. Matthew Knight Arena displayed her number on every screen. “LJ” patches were sewed above the right side of Oregon’s jerseys. Even Oregon senior Erika Schaefer had a yellow No. 51 tangled into her mohawk hair.
“This whole thing was about honoring Lauren,” coach Chelsea Shaw said, “and that was exactly what we wanted to do.”
Oregon beat visiting Concordia-Wisconsin 275.490 – 239.815 in its home-opener.
Jones sudden death on Tuesday was blind-sighting. Jones had been at Monday’s practice the day before. Shaw was in a meeting when she was told to go to the hospital for Jones. Shaw sat in the hospital’s lobby when the emergency room doctor and a chaplain emerged to tell her there was nothing more they could do to save Jones’ life.
“There’s no way to prepare yourself for a tragedy like this,” Shaw said on Friday. “I never expected in my whole coaching career that I would have to deal with the death of an athlete, let alone my second year as a head coach. I think it’s going be an emotional roller coaster as we transition and grieve, but I’m just trying to be a strong leader for my team and for this program.”
Practice on Tuesday and Wednesday was cancelled as the team tried its best to regroup.
Shaw asked her team if they wanted to compete on Saturday against Concordia.
“They said yes,” Shaw recalled, “without hesitation. We want to do it for Lauren.”
When the team ran on the mat before the meet, they all wore neon yellow “Jones 51” shirts with the words “Gone, but never forgotten” written on the back.
The only athlete not to wear one was Sydnee Walton. Instead, she wore Jones’ jersey. Friends with Jones since she was seven, Walton felt that Jones was with her throughout the competition.
“I was really down that she couldn’t physically be here with me,” Walton said, “but I felt that she was here in spirit.”
In the team routine – the final event of the night – Oregon concluded its performance by throwing up five fingers on their right hands and one finger on their left.
The meet was filled with small tributes for Jones. During the meet, the team’s Twitter account posted a link to help donate and erase the cost of Jones’ funeral for her family.
“Lauren was such a great person and she deserves to have this done for her,” Walton said. “Every little thing, every little detail – she deserved all that we could do for her.”
Shaw called this period one of “grieving and transition” for the team. After everyone had left Matthew Knight Arena, workers – wearing the Ducks Fly Together black t-shirts – cleaned the stands and rolled in the basketball hoops for tomorrow’s men’s basketball game against Utah.
The lights on the same screens that flashed the No. 51 earlier in the meet were turned off.
Transition was evident. Moving on was inevitable.
But for Shaw and the Oregon team, Jones won’t ever leave. Her patch will stay on their jerseys throughout the season – a season dedicated to her memory.
“That’s what kept them strong,” Shaw said about seeing constant reminders of Jones’ memory. “That was really just to celebrate her and I hope it continues through the rest of the season.”
Follow Joseph Hoyt on Twitter @JoeJHoyt
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