AUBURN, Ala. – There are times in sports when the human spirit shows such resiliency, such fight in the face of adversity that a golf ball-sized lump starts forming at the base of the throat, without warning.
Kim Evans, a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four days ago, declared just off the 18th green at Auburn University Club that she was the happiest person on earth. And that was before her Tigers had secured the eighth position at the NCAA East Regional, advancing to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2010.
An outpouring of love can do that to a person.
The scene around the 18th green on Saturday was emotional. When Victoria Trapani finished her round, her cancer-stricken mother, a pleasant and positive woman who followed for 54 holes, cheered loudly for her youngest daughter. It was a victory for the Trapani family to simply be back on the course – together. Victoria shot 75, her score counting for the first time all week, and then busted out the pom poms as her teammates rolled in.
Evans, 54, came out to watch the 14th-seeded Tigers tee off and then drove the two miles back home and took a lengthy nap. She came back out to the 18th to watch the drama unfold, sometimes too nervous to look. Cancer or not, she’s competitive.
Walk-on freshman Jamie Yun’s round didn’t count on Saturday, but no one really cared. Her career-low 73 in the second round was an heroic effort from a player who finished the fall season with a 82.67 scoring average.
When senior Carlie Yadloczky came out of the scoring tent, she walked swiftly up the hill to Evans and threw her arms around her neck. It was a tight, emotional hug. She then walked straight into the trees to gather herself. Yadloczky had bogeyed two out of the last three holes and thought she’d let everyone down.
Junior Marta Sanz, the hero in Tigertown, came in next with a 3-under 69. She’d play the last two rounds 7 under. When Evans was told that the Spaniard threw a passionate fist pump on the 17th hole after a birdie, Evans said “You bet she did.” She then gave some rather amusing impersonations of Sanz, who said the news of Evans’ cancer “nearly killed” her on Tuesday. She wanted so badly to bring this home for coach.
Diana Fernandez hugged Evans after the round and then turned around, bent over at the waist and shouted loudly. There was so much emotion pouring from the Paraguayan, who had closed with a 76, that Evans offered support and then gingerly walked away.
Outside of Sanz, the Tigers finished the last few holes so poorly they all walked off the 18th thinking they hadn’t done enough.
Danielle Downey, the student assistant who came back to Auburn to finish her degree, acted as head coach this week. She gathered her team for a huddle back at the clubhouse. They were actually in fine shape, save a Hail Mary effort from Virginia in the afternoon. Evans joined her team at a table on the porch. Relief settled in as the Tigers began to realize they had pulled off the improbable.
“Who would’ve thought?” asked Downey.
Evans went in for a full body scan on Friday and felt good about the visit. She said her reports would go before a panel of doctors on Monday and then by Wednesday, they’d have a plan of attack. She joked that they’d need to find a way to bring her chemo treatments to Athens, Ga., site of the NCAA Championship. Of course, that might actually happen.
When Evans returns to coaching – whenever that might be – she expects the job to give her more enjoyment.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be able to coach with different priorities,” Evans said, “different goals in mind.”
Kim Trapani a breast cancer survivor who is now fighting lung cancer, talked about having a walk in Auburn to raise money for ovarian cancer. Evans is also hatching ideas.
Evans just learned that May 8, 2013 was the first World Ovarian Cancer Day. An Auburn freshman, Alex Harrell, brought teal ribbons to the course for players and coaches to wear in her coach’s honor.
It was the kind of happy ending sports fans love. A proud Evans went home to some of Downey’s homemade chicken noodle soup and a long nap. The next battle awaits.