End Of The Beginning

And So It Ends …

By Sonja Sykes

And it comes to an end. A magical season, by the Lady Cards, much, much more than anyone expected, and the best in Louisville women’s basketball history.

A brave final try against a superior opponent.  It was an all-out effort for Jeff Walz and crew. No answer inside for the beastly Tina Charles, the precise passing, the skills of a better opponent.  Angel McCoughtry on her game early, until the defensive pressure and the solid fundamentals of the Huskies shut her down. An effort better than the previous two against the juggernaut but not enough.

Hopes were high, ambitions great, the path unexpected and unheralded.

No shame in this, no regret, no griping about missed opportunities. Giving their best shot, and falling short.  The best team won, just what the ESPN crews expected and obviously wanted. Hoping here against hope for an upset. Not getting it but not quitting or giving up. I love this team.

I turned the sound off at the start of the game, preferring to watch the game as it unfolded not influenced by commentator dialogue. Sorry Jim Kelch and Adrienne Johnson, didn’t even tune you in. What I saw and observed is a better team overcoming early difficulties and establishing their abilities to beat the team I love, wanted to win. It saddens me, but I am still very proud of these girls.

Make no apologies for this game. Praise and hold this Lady Cards dear to our hearts. They were the kids no one expected to be there, and got to this final venue with grit, determination and heart.

Sometimes, sadly…that isn’t enough.

… Jeff Walz Just Getting Started

By Charlie Springer

Time to confess. This observer wrote this University of Louisville women’s basketball team off before the season started.

The moment Chauntise Wright went down with a busted knee, a defining moment, signaling that a national championship was out of reach. No doubt, especially for a program that had never been in sniffing distance of the Final Four.

But a growing fan base became enraptured with this team, embracing the bandwagon jumpers, the fans, young and old, nearly filling Freedom Hall on two separate occasions, more than 5,000 of them making the journey to St. Louis.

Even the knuckleheads who thumb their noses at women’s basketball were unable to avert their eyes.

Somehow, some inexplicable way, Jeff Walz guided this team to a 34-5 won-lost record and into the national championship game.

Angel McCoughtry. Candyce Bingham. Huge contributors.

Deseree Byrd. Still doesn’t remotely resemble a point guard but she knows how to manage the game when Louisville isn’t playing one of the greatest women’s teams to ever take the court.

Six freshman learning the ropes, absorbing what it takes to get all the way to the final game.

As Angel McCoughtry said on Senior Night, “This is not an ending. It’s a beginning.”

Quite a coaching job by Jeff Walz.

And he’s only just begun.

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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

9 thoughts on “End Of The Beginning

  • April 8, 2009 at 12:20 am
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    I’ve just put a heartbroken but proud wife to bed after her sending you one of the toughest articles she’s ever had to write in her life.

    I’m going to sit in the kitchen, have a strong bourbon on the rocks and join her shortly….falling to sleep knowing that this is the best damn Cardinal sports site on the internet and that the Cardinal spirit is alive and strong.

    Have a great summer, board.

  • April 8, 2009 at 8:41 am
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    Sonja can rest easy with Jeff Walz at the helm and knowing that she has done an incredible job of providing insights into a great program.

  • April 8, 2009 at 9:12 am
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    Charlie, you are so right about Jeff Walz. He is an awesome coach and we can be so proud of what he has done for this program….with Angel ETAL. What a great run for this team with no HS All Americans on it and no 6’4″ Center….UConn is a machine and it’s too bad we had to face them in the Championship game but we never backed down. Next year should be a great season too and we are looking forward to it. Way to go Cardinals and Coach…thanks and congratulations on your spectacular year.

  • April 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm
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    First of all, I know this post is going to sound a little negative, but I don’t mean it sound that way AT ALL. Jeff Walz and the Lady Cards had an outstanding year and should be congratulated wholeheartedly and deservedly so.

    But here is my point: To state, as many have over the past few days, that advancing to the Final Four and ultimately the championship game exceded expectations “much, much more than anyone anticipated” is a little overblown. In fact, I think it somewhat diminishes the progress the program had made leading up to this season. It is not as if Louisville was some unknown quantity and came out of nowhere to crash this party. They were a Top 10 preseason team and won nearly 30 regular season and conference tournament games while losing only 4 (2 to UConn) before the NCAA’s. They were ranked 7th in the country before the tournament and should have received a number 2 seed (ultimately receiving a 3 seed from the tournament committee). So the fact they were able to pull off a couple of mild upsets in the tournament and beat LSU on its home floor is no small accomplishment, I submit that this should not be viewed as shocking in any way.

  • April 8, 2009 at 3:12 pm
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    I think that most people, Scott…figured Louisville to be a “sweet Sixteen” participant this year after the injury to Tise Wright. The other three teams in the final four had strong centers and experienced point guards. We, basically…had neither at the beginning of the season. For us to reach the final game without two of the main positions manned by experienced and talented players is a miracle. Not saying Dez Byrd isn’t capable at the point…but even Walz would like to move her back to a shooting guard next year.

    What we did have is the magic of Angel McCoughtry, the determined hustle of Candyce Bingham and a great supporting cast around them. I researched plenty of pre-season women’s college basketball reviews, magazines and reports and NO ONE had us as a final four team except Charlie Creme at ESPN Bracketology…and he had us bowing out in the semi-finals.

    For us to get to the title game….sorry, but it is “much more than anyone anticipated” and a fantastic acheivement. And, like Charlie writes…it is just the beginning.

    • April 8, 2009 at 10:57 pm
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      Sonja,
      I’m a little confused. On one hand, you seem to be saying we should not have expected the Lady Cards to be any more than a Sweet Sixteen team – yet on the other hand, everyone was so up in arms that the Cards were only awarded a three seed. According to your logic, UofL was seeded exactly where they should have been, if not maybe a little better. Further, by that logic, Doris Jerk, err, Burke was correct in saying that Oklahoma should have put away a “lesser” Louisville team in the first half when it had the chance.

      The main point I was trying to make in my earlier reply was simply that I thought the Cards had arrived this year. The fact they reached the final game was a great accomplishment, but their presence in the final game was a mild surprise, not a shocker – as some would lead you to believe. I’ve said to many a person since Sunday, this tournament was being played for second place and UofL won it. That is something to be extremely proud of. To suggest this team overachieved beyond imagination, I think, diminishes how far the program and this team had progressed. So, to state the team performed at a much, much higher level than expected, then be shocked at a three seed or angered by comments that Louisville is a lesser team than Oklahoma seems to be a bit of talking out of both sides of our mouths.

      • April 9, 2009 at 7:30 am
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        OK, let’s try this again.

        Many people expected the Lady Cards to be a contender for the Final Four, me included, before the season started, but once Tise went down with the knee..my evaluation changed. I honestly thought that without her dominant post presence, we would struggle to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Take a look at the other Final Four teams beisde us this year. All had dominant posts.

        But, as the season went on, we saw the Cards adapting and adjusting to life without Tise. WE also saw how tough and competitive the Big East was. WE WERE OVERACHEIVING BEYOND MY AND MANY OTHERS EXPECTATIONS…since we didn’t have the third cog in the wheel playing. We did so well that by season end, me and many other Cardinal fans thought for sure we were a shoo-in for a NCAA Tournament #2 seed…a remote shot at a #1.

        But the committee did not agree. I realized to get to the final four, we’d need a little luck and had my doubts whether we could go toe to toe with a powerhouse Maryland, a strong Oklahoma, could we compete against a talented Stanford and how would we do if we had to face Ruthers a third time? No one assumed, correctly, that UConn would be beaten. The race was for second and we were a three seed…being considered, if you will, the 9th thru 12th best team in the nation. We got to the final and knocked off Oklahoma and Maryland…ranked ahead of us, as well as Baylor…ranked ahead of us.These would be considered upsets by most basketball fans. They were acheivement that, although we thought were possible, were definitely not expected by most of the college basketball nation.

        We perfomed at a much higher level than expected after the loss of Tise. But, to improve so much as the season went on and get relegated to the three seed, yes…that was a shock and surprising.

        I hope this helps.

        • April 9, 2009 at 7:41 am
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          Peace.

  • April 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm
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    Great wrap up of the season, Mom and Charlie. It was magical and only the beginning. Now you’ve got some time to come down and visit your grandkids and do some shopping with me!

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