There's something simply incredible about watching history. There are three kinds of history: the kind you won't realize is happening, the kind you wish wouldn't happen at all, and then there's the best kind, where you can watch, and appreciate, and revel in every second of brillance.
This weekend was about reveling in that brillance. The senior members of the Lady Bears earned their bragging rights, and have fulfilled two-thirds of what was laid out for them by head coach Kim Mulkey at the beginning of the year: the regular season championship and the tournament championship. This weekend was special for me as well, as a senior member of Baylor's Courtside Players, and I was lucky enough to be with the band that travelled to Dallas to support the team.
There is a lot to write about this weekend, and most of it is already fading into the haze of too-little-sleep and too-much-adrenaline. I got to cut down a piece of net last night, something that not too many people can say, and I have the insanely talented Lady Bears to thank for it.
After the uncharacteristically disappointing showing in the win over Oklahoma State, some of us were worried about this game. That worry was unfounded, as Baylor's 36-7 run in the last 15 minutes of the first half showed. They were sharp, they were crisp, they defended like crazy - they gave the band and crowd a lot to cheer about.
Speaking of the crowd, moving the tournament to Dallas may have been one of the more brillant things the conference has done. With the biggest name in the tournament housed an hour and a half south, the crowd in the AAC was comparable to one in the Ferrell Center, even for the lower-round games. Local area fans of all the schools came out and cheered for their teams. The Baylor fans showed up loud and proud, and were definitely the larger part of the crowd at any game, even those between non Waco-based teams.
When Coach Mulkey pulled Brittney Griner from the game with four minutes left in the final, the entire house stood and applauded. She deserved every bit of that standing ovation. She came here as a tall girl with talent, and is leaving as a game changer, one of the best women to ever play the game. Mulkey's incredible coaching has a great deal to do with that, though it would have done less without Griner's willingness to learn. We have been so lucky to watch her for four years, to call her a Bear and to buy "42" tee-shirts, and as she is six games away from another stage of her career, we can only thank her for the chance.
But this team is not just Griner. This team is Odyssey Sims, one of the best (if not the absolute best) point guards in the nation, and perhaps its best on-ball defender. It's Brooklyn Pope, Destiny Williams, Nae-Nae Hayden, Jordan Madden and their development into defensive excellence. It's the future in Niya Johnson, Alexis Prince, and Kristina Higgins, as well as Sune Agbuke. Some critics say that this team will be nothing without these seniors, in particular without Griner, but I don't think so. I think this team will pick back up and keep moving forward, in search of excellence.
As for myself? I got to enjoy in person something that not many can. I got to stand (and yell and cheer and jump) court-side, with a literal front-row seat to greatness. I have a piece of net that I will treasure, and memories of four special years. I got to scream myself hoarse cheering this team on, dance Word Up with a 30-point lead, and then dance after the game with the champions. Though my feet will thank me for not putting two to three games a week on them next year, I will miss this experience.
I hope that Baylor fans realize that what we are privileged to see is exactly that: a privilege. This current team may be the best to ever play the game, and I would pit them against the 90-0 Huskies without a moment's hesitation. Next year will be different, for better or worse, so we should enjoy these last six games. Enjoy these last six games with these six seniors, and cheer them on to victory.
Author's Note: Sune Agbuke gave her piece of championship net to a trumpet player despite repeated refusals, saying "I played for two minutes. You did more than I did." The entire band tried to give the net back, but she felt he (we) needed it. These are the kinds of women we are cheering for, and this is why we cheer for them.