Across the world, there are spots of earth that have witnessed incredible, mechanic levels of death and destruction. In valleys long since gone quiet, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear the gunshots. If you pay close enough attention, you can still smell the smoke.
On a field in a otherwise unremarkable Pennsylvania town, thousands of men in gray stretched a mile wide to advance three-quarters of a mile towards an impregnable line of artillery and muskets. Across Italy and Northern Africa, Romans and Carthaginians cut each other to shreds. And in the Crimea, a band of some 600 cavalrymen were sent on a frontal assault against heavy artillery, all because someone misinterpreted an order.
There is a tendency to ascribe meaning to these encounters, to speak of the heroism and the unflinching bravery of the men sent into hopeless situations. But there’s a reason this refrain from “The Charge of the Light Brigade” stands out from the rest of the poem:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Because there is no nobility in throwing human death and suffering at a lost cause. Ascribing meaning to being torn asunder by a hailstorm of lead obscurers the utter banality. Those walking beneath the stars and bars on that July morning, those Romans who first realized they had been encircled at Cannae, those 600 cavalrymen riding through that valley in Balaclava all had one thing in common: they were about to die for the crime of following ill informed orders.
Some defeats are achieved through poor planning. Some poor strategy. Some bad luck. But the hardest to accept are those where the gulf in strength is too vast for any amount of strategy or skill to overcome. Someone high up on the chain of command looked at the overwhelming force standing across from their beleaguered group and thought “Aye, forward it is then.”
Bluefield State women’s basketball went 2-23 last season in Division II. Five times they lost by fifty or more points. They were doubled-up more times than they won. They averaged 27 turnovers a game. They averaged just 19 made field goals a game. Bluefield State is a phenomenally interesting school. A Historically Black College that is now 90% white, there is a great deal about the school other than it’s basketball program that warrants discussion. But unfortunately, this is not the time nor the place, because Bluefield State was placed directly underneath the treads of a behemoth.
Maryland women’s basketball went 31-4 last season. They return from that team the best player in the Big Ten Conference, the best center in the conference, and the best three-point specialist in the conference. They also added five top-100 recruits, the best class in the entire nation. With such a glut of talent and few mouths to feed, every Terrapin outside of the major stars will be fighting for playing time throughout the season. They are a hungry and fiendishly talented group. And they are coached by a monster.
Brenda Freese probably does not care if you live or die. Brenda Freese probably does not care about much of anything that isn’t the 28.5-inch sphere and the 4700 square feet of hardwood on which that sphere bounces. Brenda Freese wins basketball games three times more often than she loses them, and she usually wins by a lot of points. To her, opponents are nothing more than folding chairs with jerseys draped on them. No matter what, Maryland will run its sets, run its press, and keep scoring until the final buzzer sounds. They will break you. And then they will get ready to do it again.
Bluefield State accepted Maryland’s invitation to play an exhibition game, probably for the paycheck it promised. Then it sent its players into the Somme armed with a butter knife and hide armor doused in gasoline.
Bluefield State has two non-freshmen on its roster.
Maryland has two All-Americans.
Bluefield State has ten players on its roster.
Maryland has more than ten top-100 recruits on its roster.
There was never any hope. Hope got hit by a cannonball before the charge even started.
The box score reads like a description of eternal punishment in a circle of Dante’s Inferno. Maryland closed the game on a 78-0 run. Bluefield State didn’t score for the entire second half of the game. Bluefield State had more turnovers (51) than field goal attempts and foul shots combined (39). It was a beatdown of biblical proportions. Three different Terrapins outscored the entire Bluefield State roster. Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 20 points. In 13 minutes.
Brenda Freese looked across the hellish landscape she had created on that floor in College Park. And it was good. The bodies were laid waste in front of her affirmed her. She picked a virginal target to test the power of the doomsday weapon she wields. She received a haunting answer. And it was good.
Somewhere in the maelstrom of Under Armour insignias and crimson, there was Bluefield State’s Maggie Tien. Her teammates were a cataclysm of failure scattered around her. Her running mate Rosalie Pozo turned the ball over 10 times en route to a plus/minus of -159. Knee deep in the carcasses of her comrades, Maggie Tien, just a freshman on a Division II team from West Virginia, was elevated to the role of a superstar. She scored 11 points on an entirely respectable 4/11 shooting performance. She turned it over just three times. She stayed out of foul trouble. She belonged amongst the team of immortals across from her. She ascended.
Yet on the whole of the Bluefield State website, there is no evidence she even saw the court. It was a Herculean effort that will be soon buried by the sands of time. Because there is no nobility in being torn apart in pursuit of a hopeless cause.