Saturday’s AU vs. Minnesota-Duluth Division II national championship game at 3:30 p.m. will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Check your cable or streaming packages to find out if you have that channel. If you type in your zip code at this link, it will tell you the channel to find. That is channel 322 on Spectrum’s cable package in Ashland.
ASHLAND — Before every Ashland University women’s basketball game, Maddie Maloney has to perform a special ritual with her parents, Mike and Cheryl Maloney.
First, they both send her an identical text message. Then, when the Eagles come out of the locker room right before game time, her father tells Maddie he loves her, gives her a hug and a piece of gum.
“He’s a big gum chewer, I caught onto that habit from him. (It) kind of became our thing in high school. It grounds me a little bit,” Maloney said.
When halftime comes around, Maddie and her father repeat the process again, equipping her with a fresh piece of gum.
In the past, AU’s 5-foot-8 grad student guard from St. John’s, Michigan, chewed Extra Gum while she cranked out treys. But for the Eagles’ current 36-0 season, she’s been a 5 Gum adherent.
“That’s kind of what I’m riding out for the rest of the time because it’s been working,” she said.
Another foundational pillar of Maloney’s family is her dog, a cockapoo named Bubba, who she loves to take on walks when she’s home.
But this Saturday, Bubba will stay home while Maloney and the No. 1-ranked Ashland University women’s basketball team competes in the NCAA Division II National Championship in Dallas. The Eagles will take on the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at 3:30 p.m.
Maloney is a key shooter for the Eagles’ adaptive offense, which has an elite .438 trey percentage.
But Maloney’s never been one to care much about stats or box scores. Instead, she tries to be the “mom” or “grandma” for the team, she said.
“I just wanna be someone that the team can lean on and come to and kind of keep them calm when they need it, or give ’em a pep talk when they need it,” she said.
Like a mother at a wedding, Maloney, a self-described crier, gets overwhelmed with joy when the team succeeds in a big moment — like their nail-baiting win over Grand Valley State University that sent them to the Elite Eight.
“I have so much love for these people that I just can’t help it,” she said.
That win, in a packed Kates Gymnasium that represented Maloney’s final home college basketball game, will stick with her for the rest of her life, she said.
Since January, Maloney and the Eagles have been in a non-stop grind of game after game.
But since their Final Four win, the Eagles have been in an uncommon 10-day rest period before their national title bout. Coach Kari Pickens is keeping the girls sharp with shooting, ball-handling and passing drills. Maloney is using her extra time to soak up some more moments with the team she loves, she said.
“I mean, I don’t want this to ever end. I don’t want there to be a day where I don’t come to practice with these girls and hang out with them after every day, or after practice go out to eat and see these coaches,” she said.
Maloney never thought the day would come when she would have to hang up her jersey, but graduation and the end of her eligibility are just months away.
She doesn’t quite know what she’s going to do after graduation, but she’s hoping to stay with the team she loves as a volunteer coach for future seasons. She also hopes to stay in Ashland, a community she’s fallen in love with during her season here.
“Ashland is such a special place and I wish everybody could experience it,” she said.
For now, Maloney has her eyes on the upcoming national title date, where the Eagles could bring home yet another national championship trophy and a second 37-0 record.
“I think we just need to play Ashland basketball. We don’t need to go outside ourselves and do anything that we haven’t been doing all year,” she said.
“Staying together and playing our game I think has allowed us to be really successful.”