DENVER — Doshia Woods was floored when she opened her mail and saw a package addressed to her with a Columbia, South Carolina return address at the top. She knew immediately who it was from, but she never expected it would land on her desk.
"It's funny because I saw this tweet maybe about a month ago and Dawn Staley had said, 'I'm going to give every black female coach a piece of my net,' and I remember texting a friend and saying, 'do you think she means all of us?' The package arrived and it had my name on it and basically in there was what she promised: it was a note to each of us and a piece of her net," Woods recalled. "Basically she's a woman of her word."
It was a plan that started more than six years ago, two years prior to Dawn Staley cutting down the first-ever national championship net for the University of South Carolina women's basketball team at the 2017 Women's Final Four in Dallas, Texas. It was a plan that started with the pioneer of black female champions: Carolyn Peck.
"She just said, 'take this, when you win a National Championship, give it back, but also pay it forward to another coach,'" Staley said.
Peck was the first black woman to win a national championship with she led the Purdue Boilermakers to the 1999 NCAA Women's National Championship. After cutting down her net, she gave a piece to Staley years later, and asked her to continue the pattern, should she ever make it to the mountaintop.
Staley said she knew what it meant to hold that piece of nylon in her wallet for two years and the power she could pass along to the rest of her sisterhood.
"It's a tangible thing that sometimes when you're going through things day to day, that you don't feel like you can see your way through it, and then that little piece of nylon string gives you a reason to keep pushing," Staley said.
Woods watched in awe from the stands of the American Airlines Center in Dallas that April night in 2017.
"It was a group of us black coaches and just talked about how phenomenal it was from the stands," she said. "So to almost simulate that moment in my head with this piece of the net is definitely motivating and inspiring."
In the note that was sent, Staley wrote "After returning Carolyn's piece of the net to her, I struggled to pick just one other coach to give mine to keep the tradition alive. I don't want to count black women as National Championship coaches by one every few decades. I want us to do it so often we lose count!"
That was a part that resonated with Coach Woods.
"I shared it with my team, I shared the message with them, and they all had a chance to touch it and look at it, and hopefully they were inspired by it too," Woods said. "So I think it just gave me another talking point with our team that we want the opportunity to cut down our own nets. National championship at some point, but we want to start right here in the Summit League."
No dream is too big, but Woods understands life's limitations. Instead, she's setting her sights on changing the game on the Pioneers' home court.
"Not everyone is in a position to win a national championship. Not everybody has the resources or the talent. For her to think of all of us, regardless of where we are, I think it was a message to be great where you are," Woods said.
Black female coaches made up only 17 percent of all coaches in the women's DI game in 2020. The 2021 Women's Final Four showcased the first time two black coaches of any gender advanced to the women's semifinal: Arizona's Adia Barnes and South Carolina's Dawn Staley.