Feb. 21, 2003
By Dan O'Connell
"Could you ever imagine not playing?" The response came in unison and with smiles, "No." This weekend, hoops seniors Tammy Annas, Jennifer Bradley, Julie Butler, Courtney Cushing and Kendra Rhea will say goodbye to the Leavey Center in what marks their final home game-not of the season-but of their collegiate careers. We've all had that uneasy feeling of knowing something is coming to an end at one point or another in our life. Maybe it was the last day of high school, the last day of summer... or maybe it is like tonight for these five young women. A final game...a final 40 minutes in a place they call home. The hardest part of saying goodbye is ultimately realizing it is a goodbye; most often the reality of it all doesn't hit us for minutes, hours, even days after it's already over; by then, it's already too late. It's hard to realize that you will never again play competitively in place that is more familiar to you than your own dorm room. A place where you have felt every type of emotion; where you have laughed, where you have smiled, cheered, even cried with teammates, but more importantly, friends. A place where you have experienced the thrill of victory... and the sheer agony of defeat.
The past four years have been a true journey for these seniors; it's hard to say what has been the best part; the friendships, the successes, the traveling. "Being part of this team has been such a great experience," commented guard Jennifer Bradley. "We've accomplished so much; been able to travel to places I never thought I would go (Italy and France), and been so successful. I could never imagine not being part of this." The rest of the seniors nod their heads in agreement as we sit in the bleachers of the Leavey Center the day before these girls have to say goodbye. "I think it's the friendships," comments Courtney Cushing. The girls can't help but laugh at the clichéd, but true, response. After all, what is the experience without friends to share it with? Forward Kendra Rhea breaks her silence, "It has been an awesome four years." And that might be the best way to sum it all up. Undoubtedly the Broncos have experienced what most teams can only hope to accomplish. Two West Coast Conference titles, and two appearances in the NCAA Tournament, along with two NIT appearances. Certainly, a successful campaign, especially considering the worst the Broncos have finished in the past five years is third.
"We have worked so hard to get where we are. We have such a dynamic team; our mature group, all of us, and our wild underclassmen. But everyone comes together, and works hard in order to get us where we are," remarked forward Tammy Annas. The Broncos have done just that. As I sat there watching the final minutes of their practice the intensity of it all seemed to increase as time went on, no one slacks off. How they play in practice now means all the difference between a league championship and first round NCAA victory, or a quick and disappointing end to a successful season. The seniors know what it is all coming down to; you can see it in their eyes as they encourage teammates to push themselves. They know that mistakes now will translate into mistakes later at possible crucial times in close games. Every game from here on out is must win. Julie Butler insisted, "The goal now is to win another conference championship. The loss to Pepperdine was a setback, but nothing more. We can't look back at it and say what if. We want another title... that, and a first round victory in NCAAs."
And so Saturday afternoon will be an emotional game here at Santa Clara for these girls. But there are definitely things to look forward to; the start of the WCC Tournament, a possible conference title, and March Madness will start in a matter of weeks. As I concluded my talk with the girls, they wanted to especially thank the boosters and fans for all their support. "We wouldn't be where we are without them," noted Butler. "They're great."
I think it was at this point that maybe the reality of an end began to slowly sink in. As an athlete you always figure you'll play the sport you love until the end of time. It's hard to realize that slowly time will pass and that sport will never be at the same level of competitiveness and love that they have for it now. Their lives revolve around living, breathing basketball-a simple, yet sophisticated child's game consisting of 10 players, a ball and basket. But basketball is more to these girls than that, it's found them friendships that will last a lifetime, taught them how to put their hearts into something in order to accomplish a goal... life lessons are learned on that court. Ones they'll keep with them and share with others for the rest of their lives. And so we say not goodbye to these five seniors, but rather, thanks. It's been one heck of a journey for all of us.