Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Karen, Letha, Sharon, Chris

Karen Harter Ganger, Letha Insco West, Sharon Patterson Doan and Chris Warren Hatcher hoisted their trophy and reveled at 1st Source Bank Fieldhouse

The 1994 national champions with Coach Tom Barnes

The 1994 national champions with Coach Tom Barnes

Athletic Director Rodell Davis welcomed All-American Noopie Thigpen in August 2021

Athletic Director Rodell Davis welcomed All-American Noopie Thigpen back to campus from Illinois in August 2021

Ursula Jackson, Beth Blake, Timothea Clemmer

Ursula Jackson, Beth Blake and Timothea Clemmer

SMC Celebrated 30th Anniversary of Women's Basketball Champions

Published on June 27, 2024 - 10 a.m.

They’re mothers now of grown children, and accomplished professionals in a variety of fields, from teaching and criminal justice to dental hygiene, marketing and human relations.

But when they get together, as they did Jan. 20 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Southwestern Michigan College women’s basketball Division II national championship in Hagerstown, Md., the years melt away.

Chris Warren Hatcher of Dowagiac, Sharon Patterson Doan of Bourbon, Karen Harter Ganger of Goshen and Letha Insco West of Buchanan, whose daughter, Josie, plays volleyball for the Roadrunners, were freshmen on Coach Tom Barnes’ 29-6 team.

Barnes came from Iowa to take the helm of a four-win program and guided it to a 46-23 mark his first two seasons before the historic third season.

SMC’s first women’s team in 1977-78 was known as the “Roadrunnerettes.”

They returned for the 1994-95 season poised for another run at greatness, tearing through the regular season undefeated at 28-0, but stumbling in the Toledo tournament and losing to a team they previously beat.

Victory road began with the defeat of Kankakee, Ill., Junior College in the quarterfinals, 53-49. All-American Herilanda “Noopie” Thigpen and Beth Blake led the way with 18 and 12 points, respectively.

The next game wasn’t won as easily. Mitchell, Conn., the number-one team, wasn’t willing to surrender its ranking.

It took the Roadrunners two overtime periods to put the game away for good, winning by a final score of 94-87. Timothea Clemmer accounted for 25 points, while Thigpen chipped in 20.

In the championship game, Blake put in 21 to lead all scorers. Three other Roadrunners were also in double digits.

Clemmer had 20, Ursula Jackson and Thigpen each contributed 11 to an 81-72 victory over Chattahoochee Valley, Ala., Community College.

Blake was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while Jackson and Clemmer were named to the all-tournament team.


Karen Harter Ganger

Ganger, a special education teacher at Northridge High School in Middlebury, arrived for the reunion wearing her pristine green #42 Lady Roadrunners jacket, packed away for three decades.

“It  was amazing, the most memorable experience in my life other than having children,” Ganger said. “Winning the national championship was the best feeling on earth.”

“Coach Barnes was always our powerhouse in believing,” Ganger said. “We put forth the most effort we could and pulled it off. I was not a starter, but would go in at forward. Sharon and Noopie were our Twin Towers powerhouse. They were amazing the way they dominated the boards. We came close our second year. We were undefeated the entire season and should have made it, but lost, so you just move on from there.”

Ganger, from the Elkhart area, “wanted to play basketball. I toured some other schools, but when I met Coach Barnes and people here, I just felt at home and loved the smaller environment.

“When I graduated, I realized how awesome the education was here. We had relationships with the professors. They care about you, and you’re not just a number. I transferred to Purdue and did not like it there as much.”

“I got a basic associate degree” from SMC, Ganger said. “I did not know what I wanted to do as a career path except to help other people. I furthered my education with a master’s. I’ve been a teacher for 22 years.”

With four children ages 12-23, she devotes her spare time to cheering at their athletic events or, in the case of her daughter at Michigan State, attending theatre performances. Her youngest son plays football and basketball, “so we’ll see where he chooses to go.”

“The campus looks beautiful, this (basketball court) looks beautiful, I’m very impressed,” Ganger said. “I did not envision it being this modern, up-to-date and nice. We never had a skybox! Or a video scoreboard. That makes (players) feel important, like the big time.”

Ganger and her teammates watched from the 1st Source Bank Fieldhouse skybox as the current Roadrunners cruised past two opponents, the men taking down Grace Christian University’s Junior Varsity, 90-62, and the women defeating Spring Arbor University, 74-54.


Sharon Patterson Doan

Doan, #52, came to Dowagiac from Bourbon. She was inducted into Triton High School’s seventh Athletic Hall of Fame class in 2017.

Doan, a 6-foot-4, 1992 graduate, participated in basketball, tennis, track and volleyball, earning 13 varsity letters and being named MVP her senior year in volleyball and tennis and sharing the basketball MVP.

Doan started for SMC. After two years, she transferred to Bethel College and started there for two years, serving as captain senior year.

If the national title seemed like it came out of nowhere to townspeople, “It felt like it,” Doan said. “It was surreal.”

Doan puts the feat into perspective with the characterization, “A bunch of girls from different areas of the region worked well together — especially at the end of the season.”

Coming from backgrounds as stars of their hometown teams, they had to mesh and “get to know how each other played, but even by the end of the season, I don’t think it was ever in the back of our minds that we would get that far. The second season maybe we got overconfident. It was very humbling” when an undefeated season ended abruptly.

“The first season was just one day at a time,” the power forward said. “We’d get insight from the coach as to what we needed to do to get the job done, and I think that’s what we focused on. You need a little bit of that Roadrunner luck, too.”

Doan had landed a Division I scholarship to Northeastern Illinois University. The culture shift from tiny Triton to Chicago was overwhelming.

“I got homesick,” she said. Enter Coach Barnes. “I came up here, checked it out and signed,” she said. “The rest is history.”

From SMC, Doan transferred to what is now Bethel University in Mishawaka. She added a master’s degree at Indiana Wesleyan.

“Here I studied graphic arts,” Doan said. “I worked in marketing for a company for a really long time. Then, somehow, I got into human resources, which is a little bit of a leap. In my marketing role, I spent a lot of time talking to people within organizations, so when we had an HR opening, they asked me to consider it.”

“I haven’t been back to campus,” said Doan, mother to three sons, ages 9, 19 and 25. “When my husband and I come to this area, we like to golf, so we find courses. I ate many times at Zeke’s. It’s so beautiful here. The fieldhouse is a lot nicer. It’s great up here in the skybox,” sitting around tabletops construction students made from their floor.


Chris Warren Hatcher

Chris Warren came to SMC from Dowagiac and still lives here, though works in Berrien County. She has a child. Her husband, Tracey, a Niles native, serves on the Dowagiac Board of Education and pastors a church. Her mother, Minnie Warren, is a former Cass County Board of Commissioners chair.

“I was good in high school, All-Conference” for the Chieftains, said Hatcher, #44, who scored 21 on Glen Oaks. “When you get to college, everybody’s good. I wasn’t a starter, but it was a lot of fun. I was 5-foot-9.”

“My plan was to go into the service. I talked to the recruiter and everything,” Hatcher said. “But the recruiter didn’t follow up with me, then I got a scholarship offer to play out here. I studied criminal justice and work in juvenile probation. I also worked in a bank for a few years before I put in an application at the juvenile center in Berrien Center. I was a youth specialist. For the past two years I’ve been a reintegration officer. I’ve been with Berrien County since ’99.”

After SMC, she completed a Bethel University degree.

“Even after I stopped playing, I coached,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. I guess I should feel old.”

“I think it was the chemistry of the players” that pushed the Roadrunners to the summit, Hatcher said. “We had a really good chemistry, a good coach and we loved to play. The fieldhouse is nice. The tables are amazing!”


Letha Insco West

A frequent presence at the fieldhouse during volleyball season rooting for daughter Josie’s team, Letha Insco West of Buchanan said it was her first time viewing current Roadrunner basketball.

“When we won regionals, it was like, ‘What the heck, we’re going to nationals?’ Getting there the first year was amazing! We were all stars in high school, and coming here from a small farm town (LaCrosse in LaPorte County, Ind.) was culture shock. It’s about 25 miles south of Michigan City. Karen and I were on the bench together, but we did our jobs when we had to. I was 5-foot-8, a small forward. We were never upset” about limited playing time.

“We had matching stuff (like Ganger’s jacket),” West said, “so people looked at us walking through airports like we were someone. Coach Barnes did a really good job of recruiting. He discovered me — I was going to go to Indiana State — at the Teachers Credit Union All-Star game in South Bend. He offered me a scholarship and I wanted to play basketball. I wanted to study dental hygiene, so I did an associate in science, graduated from here and transferred to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and played there. I’m a dental assistant at Afdent. My son, Macoy, played baseball. My husband is an iron worker in Chicago. (Larry) is from Buchanan. We lived in LaPorte for a little bit.”

Josie, an All-State hitter for the Bucks, is studying pre-med to become a dentist.

“I’ve got a lot of school ahead of me,” Josie said. “I was originally signed to West Virginia State, but the coach quit, so I was released from my national letter of intent. (Volleyball Coach) Jenny (Nate) had reached out to me after my junior year.”

What’s it like playing at your mom’s alma mater after she played on a national champion?

“She brings it up a lot,” Josie smiled.