Lady Braves Basketball: Quinnipiac’s best kept secret

Eric Yutzy

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In actuality, it seemed to be a mixture of the two at the same time. The fact is that the Quinnipiac Women’s basketball team had their best season in 15 years. “We had a history in the making type of season,” said Coach Tricia Sacca-Fabbri. On Saturday, the second-seeded Lady Braves defeated Farleigh Dickenson University for the program’s first division one tournament win. Unfortunately, the other fact is that the girls fell in overtime to Long Island University on Sunday to end their magnificent hot streak, as well as their magnificent season.
In the cosmic order of life, Quinnipiac’s 80-74 overtime loss to LIU means little. In the great lake of college hoops, even women’s college basketball, the Lady Braves loss barely makes a ripple. You won’t see highlights on Sportscenter, or on College Basketball Tonight. You won’t see them on FOX Sports or even on New Haven’s WTNH sports. In fact, if you weren’t there, you will probably never see any clip of the game, ever. So what, right? It’s only women’s basketball right? It doesn’t even ripple, right?
Look into the eyes of senior star Colleen Klopp, after she has scored eight straight points in the last two minutes of play, leaving her heart and soul on the court, while in the meantime keeping the Braves hopes alive. Tell her it doesn’t matter.
Look into the eyes of senior center Kim Misiaszek, Quinnipiac’s third all- time leading scorer and NEC All Second Team selection, as she heads to the bench after fouling out in what would be her final game. Look into her reddened eyes and tell her it is only women’s basketball.
Then tell seniors Alina Gonzalez, Tiffany Steele and Tanya Ramos, all whom have put in over100% during their years to help bring the program to where it is today, to cheer up. Tell them it’s only a game and that life goes on.
The fact is that you can’t. Not because life doesn’t go on, because it does. Not because basketball is only a game, because it is. Simply because this is a team that mesmerizes you. Sound silly? Too manly to watch women’s hoop? Have a conversation with any member of this team. Your mind will change.
See, it’s not in the game itself that makes this team lovable, but in the interactions off the court. Coach Sacca should be commended on her recruitment of star people as well as star athletes. You will not meet a greater group to be with, a seamless union of basketball skills and people skills.
Adversity is the timeless test of unity. Just two and a half months ago, Sacca’a frustrations with results nearly became unbearable. The team was a miserable 3-7, sitting at the bottom of the league and appeared to be heading nowhere. Time proved to change those results, as the Lady Braves would go 12-5 over their next 17 games and would win eight of the final ten games, clinching second place in the NEC, their highest finish since 1985-1986. Sacca’s patience proved to be both virtuous and prosperous, as the team would make the tournament for the first time, and she would win NEC Coach of the Year.
Despite the accolades and the marked improvement, not many people were aware of the team’s success. Not many people went to their games, even though they were the second best women’s basketball team in the state. Look at it this way. The Lady Braves averaged about 400 people per game at Burt Kahn Court. Their season high in attendance was 757. They were the second best team in the league.
The men’s basketball team averaged over 1,000 people per game, even drawing a season high 1,500 during the final week of an already lost season. They finished in last place in the league. The men’s attendance low (730) was nearly as much as the women’s high. It is not just, but unfortunately, it’s life.
A crowd of about thirty Quinnipiac fans attended their tournament game at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey. The stadium seated about 8,000. Most fans consisted of parents, some administration, and a handful of rambunctious students.
In reality, we made enough noise to distract ourselves and the surrounding sections. But to those girls, we seemed to fill the place. Our voices yelled as loud as possible. We would jump up, and then sit down, only to be roused to our feet again moments later. Elation would be followed by desperation, and then would leap back to elation as the Lady Braves battled on the hardwood. As leads changed, emotions changed. There were six lead changes over the final three minutes. The intensity boiled as they traded baskets, and we would reach the heights of happiness, only to be cut short by immediate silence.
Silence fell as freshman Ashlee Kelly lay crumpled on the floor, grabbing her left elbow while writhing in pain, or when Kara Cassidy limped to half court, refusing to leave the game in the final moments of a critical defensive stand. Eruptions of jubilation exploded as Megan Rooney split two defenders, laying the ball off the glass to tie the game with three seconds remaining.
Silence fell as Klopp’s last second jumper left her hands, seemingly rotating through time and space, before bouncing off the front of the rim, sending the game into overtime. Tears flowed as LIU’s Sonressa Garcia hit two free throws to seal the game 80-74, with only ten seconds to play. All thirty of us bled that afternoon, our hearts crushed. We all felt to be part of that team.
Yet, amongst sadness, smiles emerged. Not immediately, but gradually. The smiles weren’t forced, or coaxed, but they were genuine. Smiles of pride and self worth, of realization that their hard work had taken them this far. Klopp’s father smile was the greatest of all. Having watched his precious daughter leave everything on the court, despite her loss, he couldn’t hide his “immense” pride. All the parents displayed such delight in their daughters that they could barely wait until they emerged from the locker room. Anxious, nervous, and proud, they waited in anticipation to console and applaud their own young stars.
And that was it. After it was all said and done, yes they lost, and yes, they will play again. We will never again have seniors like Klopp, Misiaszek, Gonzalez, Steele and Ramos. However, we may never again feel so proud of one team. A team that overcame adversity to make an impact in the league. They deserve our pride and recognition, because the represented Quinnipiac with more dignity, as well as obscurity, than any other of our teams.
Lady Braves, stand tall, because Quinnipiac is proud of you. Hamden should be more proud of you, and your parents and super fans are immeasurably proud of you.
And for those instances, when game situations were hanging in the balance, and your decision making was more important than ever before, when it was all on the line…we believed.