Stiles is something special
By Mechelle Voepel - ESPN.com, 3/2/01

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles gets this look on her face when she's really, really determined ... and you know she's ready to shove it down her opponent's throat, ready to humiliate 'em, ready to howl to the next hopeless schmuck who's assigned to stop her, "Oh, you want some, too?!"

Yeah, right.

Jackie scores 30, 40 or, whoops, 50 points, and although she does indeed look determined while she's doing it ... when she has to talk about it afterward, she's practically apologetic.

Everybody else deserves the credit: mom, dad, siblings, fiancé, teammates, coaches, Hammons Center custodians, the assembly-line workers who built the team bus, the founder of Springfield, Mo., and Christopher Columbus, or whoever it was who really first discovered America.

OK, fine. Jackie -- that's what we call her here in Mo-Kan; no need for the last name because there's only one Jackie we could be talking about -- will give away the accolades. And announce that she does not deserve this kind of attention, being just a small-town girl from Kansas who hasn't really done anything much and that now, you know, the focus can just go back to basketball.

But that's what it has always been on. Basketball is defined by its greatest players, and make no mistake, Jackie is one of them. And was even before she broke the NCAA Division I scoring record Thursday night in a 94-59 victory over Creighton.

Jackie had 13 points in the first half, so she needed seven to pass Patricia Hoskins' record of 3,122. And I made the decision, now considered the best of my life, not to visit the restroom just before the second half started.

How fast can Jackie score seven points? Well, a lot faster than the execution of most bodily functions, I figured, so I headed back to my seat. And in the time it took to walk from one side of the court to the other, I watched her score four.

Sit down quickly, I thought, because she's going to hit a 3-pointer the next trip down. Which, of course, she did -- 1 minute and 20 seconds into the second half.

The crowd was so loud; reporters rejoiced, "God bless her for doing it so long before deadline;" SMS coach Cheryl Burnett didn't change expression; Creighton's players headed back down on offense.

And Jackie started heading back with them, but the officials stopped the game briefly to take out the historic ball. And in those few seconds, there was Jackie at halfcourt, hands on her knees, smiling.

You freeze-frame these things in your mind. And luckily the camera was invented, because that picture-paints-a-thousand-words jazz (although writers are loathe to admit it) is true. Nothing we'll write about Jackie will tell her story the way a photo of that smile will.

We'll still try, though. The rest of the game, of course, was anticlimactic. Poor Creighton -- the Bluejays are a good team but got hammered Thursday. One of their players, Kim Hover, suffered an injury early that took her out for the game. Dayna Finch was showered with boos in the first half after a hard foul on Jackie, who got up holding her head as the crowd of 9,155 held its breath.

But Creighton coach Connie Yori said afterward people wouldn't remember who Jackie did it against, they would only remember Jackie.

Creighton's Krissie Spanheimer, who has done maybe as good a job as anybody guarding Jackie these past four years, just kind of chuckled afterward when asked what she said to the new scoring champ.

"I told her, 'Good job. Nice shot,' " Spanheimer said.

And if that had been the sum total of what was said to Jackie on Thursday night, she would have been OK with that. She would have been OK if Missouri governor Bob Holden, an SMS graduate, and all the SMS brass and the Missouri Valley Conference commissioner weren't there. Or if SMS hadn't printed up some 10,000 autographed pictures of Jackie, wrapped in plastic to protect them. Or if there hadn't been a banner that unfurled from the scoreboard congratulating her. Or if megabucks SMS donor John Q. Hammons, for whom the arena is named, hadn't flown in Hoskins and her son, Daryl, from Mississippi to be there for the game.

But all that did happen, which tells you something about how much the school and community care about women's basketball and, more specifically, how much they care about Jackie.

Hoskins being there was one of the best parts of the whole thing. She finished her career at Mississippi Valley State in 1989, a different era in women's hoops, and got virtually no recognition then.

It was wonderful to see her get the second-biggest ovation of the night from the SMS crowd.

"I will never forget this night," Hoskins said. "My son won't forget it, either."

When a KC Star colleague called Hoskins in January to ask her about the record, she said, "I still have it?" Thursday, she admitted it took her a little longer into the conversation to fully realize which record it was.

But by the time she got to the game Thursday, she said she'd heard enough about Jackie that she felt as if she'd known her all her life. They finally met after the game, and Hoskins summed up Jackie: "What a lovely person."

That determined look mentioned earlier? It's not exactly ferocious. To be honest, it has always reminded me of the look a little kid gets when she's decided she will pull her wagon back from the park, not ride in it. And don't bother telling her it's too heavy, or she's too little, or she's too tired, or it's too far. She's just going to do it.

Jackie's 5 feet 8, and in street clothes would appear to be your average college kid. In her uniform, though, you see how she has chiseled herself, and when she races down the court and shoots off the jump stop -- does anybody in the collegiate women's game do that better? -- you can tell just how good an athlete she is.

How good a person she is -- that's just as plain to see. We elevate and idolize a lot of people in our American sports world; some of them worth it and some of them not.

Here's somebody who is worth it.

She said, "Wow," when she walked into the media room and saw so many faces. She laughed a lot, obviously relieved of some tension. Jackie is a big-time worrier.

All those autographed photos had the date March 1 on them. What if she hadn't broken the record this night? Well, they would have had to print out another batch, of course.

But everybody knew she'd do it. That was yet another part of what was so neat about this.

Women still don't get to be sports heroes all that often, even in 2001. It's still profoundly moving when they have every eye on them and every heart with them in a building packed to the roof. When they're the ones saving the day, not being saved.

Everybody -- except Creighton, of course -- was counting on Jackie for 20 points: the fans who love her, the teammates who depend on her, the media who were there for the story.

You know, it's not the easiest thing in the world to score 20 points at any level, let alone Division I. But nobody even thought about that. It was just, "We need 20 points, Jackie."

She scored 30. What else did we expect?

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