By Jeffrey Newholm
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Obviously true of the NFL. And surely this is the same of every sport. In college, it’s Final Four or bust, right? The point of the conference race is to win. No tournament, no good. Wrong. Since so few of 3000+ division one women will play for the 12 WNBA teams, basketball primarily provides an opportunity for character growth. And that’s the primary challenge facing coach Jose Fernandez at USF this season. Stuck as a target in the “power six” American Conference, the Bulls are struggling with a decimated roster. But in 10 years none will remember the school’s record. What will be is how the players learned from challenges.
Poorly timed injuries
Sunday offers an opportunity that comes thrice a year: beat the unbeatable NCAAW queens. In 103 tries since 2013, 0 teams have defeated UConn. Only one battled within 10. But Sunday’s showdown in Storrs comes with terrible timing. Fernandez thinks outside the box-check that-country with creative international recruiting. Latvian senior Kitija Laska was supposed to lead her team in an All-American sendoff. Unfortunately for those supposers, Laska tore an ACL preseason. With four other players also out in Tuesday’s 49-62 loss to improving UCF, the Bulls stagger into their biggest game. But outcomes are secondary to the effort.
Positives in negatives
Fernandez may be sympathetic to his players, but he still expects progress. “This is the kind of stuff that prepares you for life and the real world. There’s going to be things that happen in your life that are unexpected and it’s how you deal with it, you’ve got to wake up and go to work the next day”, says the school’s winningest coach. But making a D1 roster is itself unexpected. The remaining schedule, while unlikely to lead to the NCAAs, provides a unique opportunity for growth for each woman. And that’s a benefit that can’t be duplicated outside the US’s excellent universities.
Stampede in Storrs?
Noon Sunday may feature a certain eastern football team, but they’re quite unpopular. Basketball fans would do better to turn on ESPN to watch potential history. Each year, the Bulls get a little closer to inevitability. “I think there’s a lot of life lessons that these guys have learned this year”, brags Fernandez. But coach, aren’t moral victories lame? While Sunday will be difficult in a state UConn hasn’t lost in since 2013, it is certainly another step towards goring the matador. Because winning the big game may not be the only thing, but truthfully it always feels especially fulfilling.