You really can’t blame Aleah Goodman for finding it difficult to come up with the words that adequately describe what her journey has been like over the past seven months.
And, if we are being honest, it’s really more like the past year that Oregon State’s senior point guard finds “hard to talk about” for so many reasons.
There’s no doubt the road has been bumpier than at any time in her little over two decades of life.
Like everyone, Goodman has had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s because of the spike in cases and the infiltration of professional sports back in early March that Goodman’s junior season with the women’s basketball team was cut short in gut-wrenching fashion.
Instead of getting a shot at the postseason and one final push with her teammates, the season came to an abrupt conclusion in almost the blink of an eye, and there was no telling what the future might hold — or when it would be held.
“Looking back it still just doesn't even feel real,” Goodman said recently. “Like just that whole year and just everything that team kind of went through, it was just an odd year and I don't even think I can still put it into words. It's something that it's been hard to talk about.”
There is a lot to digest from the past season, that’s for sure.
What started so promising last season, suddenly turned into a nightmare for not only Goodman but the entire program.
First, close friend and roommate Taya Corosdale suffered a season-ending leg injury.
While its true the Beavers posted the best start in program history, winning their first 15 games and playing to be No. 1 in the country, they also were stunned by three deaths that resonated with many, if not all, inside the program.
First came an accidental death of a fan on their trip to Hawaii. Not long after, another supporter of the program passed away.
Then came the shocking death of former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. Goodman’s face went blank when learning of the news a little over an hour or so before tipping off against Oregon.
Mired in all of that, the Beavers suffered another key loss on the court when Kennedy Brown went down with an ACL injury and the team went through unprecedented three- and four-game losing streaks.
Suddenly a season that looked like it could be one of the best in program history was crumbling.
Finally, just when they were ready to put it all behind them and make a run in the NCAA tournament, it was all over in an instant.
“It's like what is going on with this year, it just didn't ever feel like we could really catch a break,” Goodman said. “And, like I said, it's just, it's hard to put into words those feelings, those emotions. And all this stuff is happening in the middle of the season, like some of the most intense parts. So it's like, do you address it, do you not address it? It's something that should be talked about but at the same time we're all trying to stay really focused.
"So it was just a hard time to balance everything, and then everyone has different emotions about everything. And then you kind of feel like you're starting to get into a groove again and then all sudden, boom, season's over …"
In the end, now at least, it will be a season that will be remembered.
“But looking back it's one of those seasons that, as hard as it was, it's something that I don't think any of us will ever forget it," she said. "It was a special season even though all of the hard things. It showed that the team last year was just resilient which I’m going to miss."
Back on the court
While Goodman may never forget last season and all that transpired, she feels like a kid on Christmas morning now that the team is able to get back on the court in preparation for the start of the season — which officially begins on Nov. 25.
And for now it’s a gift that keeps on giving as Goodman and company go through the usually arduous task of preparing for the long haul of a season.
“I mean it honestly feels great,” Goodman said. “Being able to be out there and play and actually go five on five and go live. We couldn't help but smile, like it was just so much fun to be out there with everyone. It's something that you don't realize, we take advantage of it a little bit.”
The first official day of practice was one unlike any other first days of practice for Goodman.
“There was just a different tone to that practice,” Goodman said. “And it really did feel better than normal because … I mean you would think it would feel like a normal day, like what we're all used to but it literally felt like waking up on Christmas morning, knowing we can actually go to practice and we can play against each other. It was a special day for sure.”
While the schedule has yet to be released, Goodman is soaking in every moment of the time she gets in the court with her teammates — many of which are new to the program.
And she won’t let all the questions that currently have no answers get in the way of that pursuit.
“Yeah, I mean there's definitely some uncertainty, obviously,” Goodman said. “We know we're going to play, but we just don't know how. But I really think these last few months have really just taught me to control what I can control, and just kind of be in the moment with that.”
There is a strong likelihood that some or all games will be played without fans in attendance. That means no roar of the crowd inside typically raucous Gill Coliseum, one of the best home-court advantages in the country. And if that is the case, Goodman’s family would not be allowed in to see her play either.
There has even been some talk of a possible bubble situation like the WNBA, NBA and NHL used to great success this past summer.
“I think just for my own sake it's been really important for myself not to think about that and just stay in the moment with our team and kind of just be the calming factor for everyone, just knowing that we don't need to really worry about that,” Goodman said. “We're going to get to play. And that's the important part is that we're going to play and play together.”
Success on the court
Goodman enters her senior season having played in 97 games with 21 starts — 18 coming last season. She is a career 43.1% shooter from the field and is the Beavers’ career leader at 42.6% (193 of 453) from beyond the 3-point line.
She has scored 839 career points and is averaging 8.6 per game over her three seasons.
Goodman is also fourth in career made 3s, entering the season with 193. She needs 39 to tie Kat Tudor (232) for third and 53 to equal Jamie Weisner (253) for second. Sydney Wiese is first with 373.
She won the inaugural Sixth Player of the Year award from the Pac-12 in the 2018-19 season when she averaged 10.7 points and played 25.1 minutes per game as a sophomore.
While Goodman has grown on and off the court in her first three seasons, she said the biggest transformation — especially in her ability — has taken place during this strange offseason.
Goodman, who wasn’t a highly rated recruit coming out of La Salle Prep, admits that she used to doubt that she belonged in the Pac-12 and that she had the ability to compete against the best.
“I think I went through kind of stretches last year and the year before where I let that doubt kind of creep in, and I'm like, ‘What am I doing here?” she said. “And I think I'm finally kind of over that and it's like, no, I should be here and I belong here.
“So just kind of seeing myself work really hard and then trust that process, trust (coach) Scott (Rueck), trust the coaching staff, has been a lot of fun. I think that's where my biggest growth has kind of evolved is just having confidence in myself, in my preparation and just kind of getting that love and hunger back for the game has been a lot of fun."
Born to be a Beaver?
Goodman can’t imagine being anywhere other than Oregon State, but that wasn’t always the case.
Early on, Goodman admits she always wanted to go play on the East Coast. But as she grew older, she realized that staying home might be a better option.
Still it wasn’t until Rueck took over the Beavers’ program that Goodman really began considering Oregon State as an option.
Both her parents attended George Fox, so as a youngster Goodman took part in Bruins’ camps and went to many games. The coach was none other than Rueck.
“So I already had a pretty close bond with him and then when he took over at Oregon State, I think that's when Oregon State kind of got my attention,” she said.
“As recruiting started to happen and it became a little bit more real, I think I kind of knew that this was the place where I wanted to be because of Scott and because the people that he hires and the people that he recruits. I just knew I would fit in great here.”
It has also allowed her parents to attend nearly every game — home and away — during her first three seasons. Goodman said “they've honestly probably missed two maybe three games of my entire like Oregon State career.”
That opportunity could be in jeopardy due to the pandemic. It’s not something Goodman really wants to think about.
“Not having them there is going to be really hard. If they don't get to come, obviously, is going to be extremely hard and tough,” Goodman said. “I know they'll watch every game on TV. But thinking about that, having it be my last year, it's a little scary. It's sad a little bit just because I don't really want that to be how my last year goes.
“But like I said it's one of those things that we don't really have a lot of control of and I know they'll watch all the games on TV, I know I’ll still get pregame texts my dad's, and postgame tags, I know those will still be there.”
While it would appear Goodman — who has already graduated with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences and a minor in leadership and decided that she was schooled out so instead of taking classes for a master’s is spending this term taking golf, yoga and some music courses — still has plenty of playing days ahead, she knows what she wants to do when that time comes to a close.
Ideally, Goodman would like to become an assistant coach in college. She feels so strongly about that she would be willing to get her foot in the door sooner rather than later, even if it shortens her playing career.
“I think I want to play for a few years, I don't want to leave any regrets. But my heart definitely is in coaching,” she said. “That's kind of where I found a love. I think throughout college, I've always had a love for playing, but just being able to grow in the game of basketball and just kind of see how the coaches, Scott and then (assistants) Jonas (Chatterton) and Brian (Hollsinger) and Katie (Faulkner) have really affected my life in a positive way, I want to be that person for girls and young women to come.
“I love basketball, and I'm not ready for that to be out of my life.”
A standout moment
Goodman has been a part of many memorable moments and performances in her first three seasons with the Beavers, so picking a favorite didn’t come easy.
There were a couple thrilling home wins over Oregon, including one where Goodman forced Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu to travel in the closing seconds to seal OSU’s win.
There was also a win over Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16 her freshman season, and a win over Baylor a few days later to make the Elite Eight.
And who could forget Mikayla Pivec’s buzzer-beater against Arizona State this past season when the Beavers scored four points in the final 3.1 seconds?
But the moment that will stick with Goodman, at least for now, was the incredible performance by Marie Gulich in 2018 against Arizona State in the regular-season finale.
Gulich poured in 30 second-half points and almost single-handedly willed the Beavers to the win. She was 13 for 13 from the field in the final 20 minutes and 4 for 4 from the line and finished with a career-high 36 points.
“I think that has to be one of my favorite moments in my Oregon State career, just seeing her dominate,” Goodman said. “… It's a game I constantly look back on, especially kind of going into my senior year, I look back on that year honestly and I often think, OK, in this situation what would Marie do or what would she have done if she was put in a situation like this.
“So I think just kind of that game is a moment that I won't forget. And I mean, I don't think I played a really big part in that game. But Marie just kind of taking over and being like heck no, we're not losing this game, I'm not going through this, is special and it's something that I will remember forever, honestly.”