Prior to Tuesday night, only one women’s basketball jersey rested in the rafters of the O’Reilly Center in Springfield, Missouri.
The home arena of the Drury Panthers, Benton grad Daejah Bernard completed four years on the floor with Amanda Newton’s jersey from the early 2000s casting a shadow on the hardwood. As of Tuesday night, Bernard’s No. 5 now overlooks the Panthers and their opponents each home game.
“There’s been so many awesome players that have laced up their shoes and worn that uniform,” Bernard told reporters. “The fact that we were getting honored with her — I know she was a great great — and I’m just honored we’re able to be up there with her.”
Bernard, a three-time GLVC Defensive Player of the Year, and Hailey Diestelkamp, her four-year teammate and two-time National Player of the Year, were honored with a jersey retirement during halftime of Tuesday’s game against Minnesota Duluth in Springfield. There are now just three jerseys retired from one of the top programs in the nation.
“I definitely think it’s very overwhelming just being back here. We both talked about this being our first time back here, seeing the floor, seeing the hoops up,” Bernard said. “It was overwhelming coming to a basketball game, nonetheless getting recognized.”
Their jerseys were taken off following a GLVC Tournament title run and with anticipation of returning to the floor for the regional tournament a week later. But COVID prematurely ended their undefeated season while ranked No. 1 in the nation, and it brought their careers to a close.
Those jerseys will never be put on again.
“I don’t think either of us would have it any other way,” Bernard said. “We came in as freshmen and left as seniors together. We played high school senior year against each other at state. That’s where our run began together. I wouldn’t have picked a better teammate to do it with.”
Bernard shattered Drury’s all-time assist record by compiling 607 during her four seasons, breaking the mark by 133. Bernard also finished her career with 402 steals, third-most in program history.
The duo went 128-8 with a 72-2 conference record, reached all three Midwest Regional finals and reached the ‘19 national semis.
“You guys are GOATs,” said head coach Amy Eagan, an assistant during their careers, in a video tribute. “You guys have left a legacy here for everyone to remember and follow. I’m so proud of you guys, and you’ll always be a part of Lady Panther nation.”