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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
The Lady Cobbers Confront the "R" word
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. But, as most Concordia students headed for spring break, the Lady Cobbers began to face the "R" word in earnest.
They started preparations for trying to do what has never been done in the NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament, repeat as champions.
The challenge to repeat is a fascinating goal for a team to cope with. It can be an inspiration or a burden or simply irrelevant, depending on how a team chooses to deal with it. But deal with it they must.
This year's crew of Lady Cobbers began to think about the possibility of repeating about ten minutes after the NCAA Championship game last spring, a relatively easy 65-58 win on the Cobber floor over St. John Fisher. Ten minutes is how long it took some fans to start popping the "Can you repeat?" question.
Those returning for the 88-89 season knew they would be part of a vastly different team. The core of the 87-88 championship team was graduating. Those four graduating seniors (Jessie Beachy, MaryLee Legried, Nancy Jacobson, and Cheri Beyer) were taking with them more than just a wealth of basketball talent. They had played the game with a ferocity of spirit and had pursued a national title with missionary zeal. Their passing, shooting and intensity had gotten them tremendous, and well-deserved, notoriety.
But then they were gone.
Waiting to step out from those seniors' long shadow was a new core of leaders with a seemingly more gentle manner but obvious talent.
There were questions galore in the beginning. How would the dazzling Jillayn Quaschnick respond to being "the" shooting guard rather than just "that other guard" opposite Player-of-the-Year Jessie Beachy? How would 6'4" Patty Kubow come back from her knee injury? And was there room on the floor for both her and 6'2" sophomore Michelle Thykeson? And could Becky Ehnert step in to provide the passing and leadership at the point the way Legried had? Many questions.
But the biggest question was how to deal with the "r" word, repeating. It wasn't spoken of often. And when it was it was only in whispers. But the question hung over the early-season proceedings.
Gradually, perhaps after the win over NDSU, perhaps slightly later, the answer became obvious. This was a new team with its own character and its own goals. They were not going to be haunted by ghosts of the past. They were forging their own identity and were playing for their own distinct niche in Cobber history.
Opponents were going to play their best game of the year against the Cobbers to knock off the "defending champs." But that would just make it sweeter to win. And win they did.
Like last year, they ended the regular season with just two losses, 23-2. Like last year, they held a #2 national ranking nearly all year. The win over NDSU partly offset the disappointment of not winning the MIAC title despite an 18-2 record.
But this is a different team from last year in both obvious and subtle ways. Fans still get to watch at least ten players in every game, a lot of points, and pressure defense. But they are also seeing a different game. The inside orientation is new and Ehnert's penetrating style at the point contrasts with last year's thread-the-needle passing.
On a more subtle and important level, this year's team has wisely used the advantage of having been to the mountaintop which a national championship represents.
They set for themselves an even higher goal.
They aimed at being the best team they could be while steadfastly retaining the sheer joy of playing a game they love with teammates they care deeply about. And, to their immense credit, they are succeeding.
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