it’s a beautiful life

I’m going to try and make this entry as coherent as I can, but it’s so hard not to just scream and type in caps for fifteen paragraphs.  The last two days have been such unbelievable hours, filled with tears, laughter,  and star-shaped confetti.

Monday morning I woke up, and ordered breakfast with my family at the hotel restaurant.  I attempted to get some sun by the pool, but the weather wasn’t exactly agreeing with me.  After a couple of hours of being lazy, I went and got lunch at an adjacent hotel and ate it by the pool (I had been dying for fish tacos), then went on the bus to team practice.  There was an hour of press in the locker room, during which Kaili was answering a reporter’s question and choked on a hunk of banana and suddenly got helium-voiced.  The reporter waited patiently while we howled at her.

After a whirlwind practice during which I made the buzzer beater shot again, we all got dinner at a rustic, elegant Italian place just outside the city.  Dad and Mom had discovered it two nights previously and we ended up taking over the entire restaurant with our party.  Over the course of two hours, many plates of bread, carpaccio, and pasta were consumed, and aside from nearly choking on cocoa powder when I tried my sister’s tiramisu, I adored everything we ate.  I sat with my sister, brother, brother in law Todd, and Todd’s three friends who made the trip down with us.  Our conversation ranged from top actors of all time to quotes from The Hangover.  I kept checking up on the Butler/Duke score, and by the time halftime rolled around we were begging Dad to get the bus to come around and take us home.  Thankfully, he listened, and we spent the ride back to the hotel watching someone’s iPod app.  I was brokenhearted for Gordon Hayward, particularly after watching a special report on ESPN about how close he really was, scientifically, to making that last shot.  He was off by only about the width of a fingernail.

Tuesday morning, I woke up late and again had breakfast with my family.  Shootaround was very straightforward.  I was watching Kaili shoot after walkthrough when she turned to me and said “Should I shoot a three if I get into the game tomorrow?” I immediately responded “Um, yes!” To which she replied “Okay, I’ll make one for you.” And then she shot and hit a three from the corner.  I loved that moment.  Kaili’s probably the senior I’m the closest to.  We hang out a lot in the back of the bus during trips, and she’s the one that convinced me to go on the Texas trip back in November, a trip that I still hold very close.  At the end of shootaround, while loading the bus, I found out that Vice President Joe Biden would be attending the game that evening, and I freaked out a little bit.  I mean, I’ve already met Obama.  Now on to Biden!

After a nerve-wracked pregame and a quick run on the treadmill (which helped calm me down tremendously), I met up with my family and we all walked to the Alamodome on the pedestrian walkway.  I could feel myself get more and more stressed about the game with every step.  It wasn’t until we got to the entrance line that I felt something off on my person, and realized my fly had been undone throughout the entire walk.  It was clearly going to be that kind of night.

And the first half of the game did nothing to assuage my fears.  I can’t even explain what happened to us.  We were either terrified, or the pressures had caught up to us, or something.  But our faces weren’t scared, just confused and annoyed.  I was so stressed and horrified by our performance, I spent most of the first half in the bathroom, pacing frantically.  When I did emerge, I was yelled at by my mother for wearing a ‘doom and gloom’ face.  I didn’t care.  I wanted it so badly for our five seniors that the thought of this not happening was almost too much for me to bear.

At the beginning of the second half, I ran up to the bathroom to calm myself down.  I repeated a mantra Mom had given me a few weeks ago, during a particularly stressful period.  I kept saying “Have faith, and blessings will come” over and over again.  I imagined Maya hitting threes.  I practiced the art of visualization.  And then, all I heard for the next five minutes were announcements that UCONN had scored.  On my third visual of Maya hitting a three, I heard the announcement that Maya had done just that.  Surely we were close! I ran out to the court and saw we were up by three! I ran down to my chair and watched the rest of the game, cheering and screaming and holding my mom’s hand.  It was a crazy atmosphere to say the very least.  At one point, Jenna held onto her tummy and said, “Well, the baby’s excited!”

One of my favorite moments of the entire game was when Caroline hit those back-to-back threes near the end to seal the deal for us.  I felt awful for Caroline last year when everyone ran out to center court and she had to walk.  This was her first full season in three years, and then on top of it she had a stomach virus throughout the tournament.  So to see her make those big time shots was a thrill I will never forget, and it brought me back to the day I first met her after the North Carolina game in January 2008.  Another moment I loved was when Kelly fell to the floor but kept her dribble alive enough to make it down the court.  That girl is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

The game didn’t truly end for me until the final buzzer sounded, which was very different from last year.  In St. Louis, we had the game in the bag for the entire second half, so we were celebrating for a long time before the game actually ended.  This time, we stood up holding hands and I counted down the clock, and it took that ringing sound of the buzzer for us all to realize that we had won.  We did it.  We were the National Champions for 2010, and we had accomplished something that most people dream about.  And when that buzzer went off, the scream my family emitted was a combination of joy, euphoric, and dizzy relief.  I looked up at the monitor and saw Meghan sobbing into Tina’s arms, and that is the exact moment that I lost all control of my emotions.

From that moment on, the one thought in my mind was Dad.  Get to Dad.  Thankfully, our fantastic Big East liaisons got us sweet All-Access tags and we made our way onto the court, tripping over wires and confetti.  I saw Dad getting interviewed by Rebecca (who apparently called his shoulder bag a ‘manpurse’…good one, Becca!) and instantly teared up again.  When it became clear that he was free from the post-game interview, I waited until Michael had his turn and then launched myself into Dad’s arms, sobbing like a little kid.  He whispered a few things in my ear to calm me down, and it was all gentle and very knowing.  He rubbed my back to get me to calm down, because by then I was leaving eyeliner all over his shirt.  I released him and wiped my face…and that’s when I saw the camera, pointed straight at my nose.  Then my purse, tucked under my arm, began to vibrate uncontrollably.  My first thought? Aww, people are congratulating me on the win.  My second thought? Oh crap.  Everyone just saw me ugly cry on ESPN.

Sure enough, every single text message I received from then on in the night ran along the lines of “Saw your crying face on TV!” Hey, wouldn’t you?

The next few hours are a big blur.  From getting to hug Marisa (who screamed “I’ve got one now!” and subsequently realized she had carried Dad five feet in their postgame hug) and emotional speech by Dad in the locker room (where he mentioned that he was so grateful to have such an amazing group of women to coach, and how blessed he felt), to the mini-rally and trophy presentation at the Hyatt, to the amazing post-game meal and countless Sportscenter shoutouts, to Tina not taking off her net necklace, to closing down the hotel bar (at which my mother booed quite loudly) to giggling with Mel Thomas at 2 in the morning in the hotel lobby…everything is a joyous, wonderful mess.  As it should be.

The next day was a chore, I won’t lie to you.  We were all running on about four hours of sleep, and the rainy weather we encountered on the flight didn’t make us feel any better.  Thankfully, the delicious chicken spinach wrap I ate on the plane home definitely helped.  I skipped the Gampel rally in favor of coming home and crashing.  After the last three weeks, I definitely needed it.

This year has been so crazy.  There were a lot of supporters of our journey, but also a lot of downers and dissenters who said it couldn’t be done twice.  That we didn’t have a true point guard.  That our streak was bad for the women’s game.  Those people should stay away from women’s basketball and go watch a sport more worthy of their time and energy.  Like golf.  I hear that Tiger Woods is one interesting individual.

This group of girls is my favorite out of all the teams I think I’ve ever witnessed under my father, and not just because of how close I am with them.  They approach everything with such joy and zest, it’s impossible to not get caught up with it.  They are like my little sisters, all of them.  And it’s a blessing to be close enough to Tina to get to watch her take this next step in her career as a professional athlete, right here in the state that loves her the most (except for New York, and now they’ve got Kalana!)

Now, on to the post-season festivities, and my activities this summer will be surely documented on this blog.  Stay tuned for the laughs, lunacy, humor and heartbreak that is Life Beyond The Postseason…

ally

PS. Just like last year, Dad watched the game again last night with me over dinner.  And just like last year, he found plenty to bitch about.  One good quote? “A lot of Tina’s jumpers from the lane last night were the kind that you sit there and go ‘That shot BETTER go in, or else you are in trouble.'”

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5 thoughts on “it’s a beautiful life

  1. It's been great following the season with you, Ally. Thanks so much for your dedication to this blog – I've never posted a comment, but really appreciate reading it. I've been a fan since the early 90s when we would sit in the fieldhouse and watch the girls from the bleachers! We've come a long way and your dad is an amazing coach (I remember going to 2 of his bball camps in high school – and was coached by Meghan Pattyson!) Who knew where she'd be!? Anyway, 2 quick questions for you…Do you know if any of the National team practices/scrimmages/games are open to the public? Do they play anywhere else except Prague? Sounds like a great group of women – would love to watch them together. Congrats on the Championship – CT is super proud…all the nay-sayers are just jealous they don't have a team like ours 🙂

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