Mavs must now build off success of this year’s team
SAN ANTONIO — Reality set in with about 10 seconds left in their dream season.
As much as Kelsey Sigl and Katrina Selsor tried, they couldn’t hold back the tears as the clock ran out on the Colorado Mesa University seniors’ college careers.
Sigl bit the neck of her gold throwback jersey. Selsor wiped her eyes with hers.
The two All-Americans had willed this team to success all season, the best yet for a Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team. In fact, it was the first basketball team, men’s or women’s, to reach the Elite Eight since Mesa joined the NCAA in 1992.
With their success came growing interest in the program, evidenced by sellout crowds throughout the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and South Central Region tournaments at Brownson Arena.
Not only did the team fly on the charter to San Antonio, but so did a group of cheerleaders and the pep band. The student radio station and campus newspaper paid to send reporters and photographers.
Some families made the 1,000-plus-mile drive. Others scrambled to find flights on short notice. CMU President Tim Foster and his wife flew to San Antonio on Tuesday morning.
Fans at home clamored for information on where they could watch or listen to the game.
“We’ll just take away (memories of) the year that we’ve had,” Katrina Selsor said in the postgame press conference, her voice quivering through the tears. “We’ve had such a successful year, and everyone that’s supported us, we can’t thank you guys enough, everyone who made the trip down here, too.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better year and the support system we’ve had through it.”
Dubbed “the big three” all season for their play and leadership, Sigl and the Selsor sisters, Katrina and Sharaya, weren’t quite big enough Tuesday in their 60-44 loss to Dowling (N.Y.) College in the quarterfinals.
The team that shot so well all season couldn’t buy a bucket, shooting a season-low 29.3 percent, and an even lower 15 percent from the 3-point line. A lot of that had to do with Dowling’s top-ranked defense, which made the Mavericks tentative. The rhythm threes that snapped the net time after time this season, instead rattled out.
Katrina Selsor’s driving, two-handed scoop shots or arching left-handed layups that kissed off the glass time and time again, instead caromed off the rim. It was just one of those games.
It wasn’t a case of nerves or stage fright, even though it was their first time in the national quarterfinals.
“I felt like all year the girls handled the pressure, going to play in different tournaments and being nationally ranked. I felt like they did a great job, and I’m just proud of them,” first-year coach Taylor Wagner said. “I told them in the locker room not to focus on just this game. You’ve got to look at the whole year and what they accomplished. It’s a lot for Colorado Mesa.”
Less than a half-hour after the season ended, Sigl, Selsor and Selsor entered the postgame press conference one last time together, their eyes still red from crying.
“I don’t know if we could be more proud of the year that we’ve had,” said Sigl, who scored 610 points this season, breaking a record that stood since 1992. “Like Katrina said, our support system has been amazing this year, and we’re so appreciative of that. This team has set the standard for what this program is going to be from here on out.”
Before the team left Grand Junction, Wagner talked about what the Mavs’ success has meant in recruiting. He and assistant coach Michael Wells, the recruiting coordinator, have been inundated with phone calls, emails and videos from players wanting to join the team.
Wagner and Wells joked that they have all kinds of options, they just don’t have enough scholarships to go around.
Sharaya Selsor will be the unquestioned leader of the 2013-14 Mavericks, and, she said Tuesday, the players learned what it’ll take to make a long postseason a yearly occurrence.
“I think the biggest thing is to have the standard that we’re going to be a nationally elite program,” she said of the future. “We’ve never played on this type of stage, and now that we’ve had that experience, know that every single day in practice, we’ve got to play with a different intensity and take it up another notch.”
Wagner’s system is now solidly in place, and the Mavs, who went into this season not sure what to expect, have raised their own expectations.
“Obviously this year in practice we played that way, but it took us some steps to get there,” Sharaya Selsor said. “We didn’t know how to play like that, and that’s what Coach was getting us to.
“Now that we’re here we’ve got to continue to set our benchmark higher and set our expectations higher.”