The entire team sat stunned, awestruck by the fact that their name hadn’t been called.
The 2009 NCAA Tournament selection show was supposed to be fun for USF women’s basketball. The Bulls had just finished a 27-win season and lost to UConn in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference Tournament.
Coach Jose Fernandez thought his team was poised to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. They threw a party and flipped on the TV, waiting.
They kept waiting until the selection show was over. USF’s name wasn’t called that year.
Fernandez said his team was devastated. His players were so upset that they didn’t want to play when they got invited to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).
“In life, things are going to happen. You’re not going to get everything you want and things are going to happen,” Fernandez said Wednesday. “But it’s what you do with the opportunity that’s going to talk about the person that you are. And about the team that you are.”
USF had no say in whether they were given a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Instead of staying down on themselves, the Bulls won the 2009 WNIT championship.
Fast forward a decade. USF won’t likely get together for another selection watch party. They might not even get a chance to play in the WNIT. But what do you expect from a team missing three of its top players?
Fernandez and the Bulls have fallen victim to forces outside their control once again. In 2009, it was the NCAA selection committee. This time, it’s injuries. Kitija Laksa and Beatriz Jordao are out for the season. Laura Ferreira is out indefinitely with an illness and some other players are day-to-day.
Before this season, the Bulls were picked by the rest of the AAC to finish second in the conference tournament. But that’s not the case. Now, they’re losing to teams they’ve never lost to before: Houston, SMU and Cincinnati.
Take away any team’s three best players, even UConn according to Fernandez, and the outcome of their games would be different too.
“We’re getting everyone’s best punch,” Fernandez said. “But we’re doing it with five of eight kids that are freshmen … One of those freshmen that is starting has only been in the country for a month.”
While USF’s 12-12 record is a fall from its usual standing in the AAC, Fernandez has been using this season to teach his young players. Things won’t always go your way in life and you have to be ready when an opportunity does come your way.
This season may seem like a letdown but missing the 2009 NCAA Tournament was also a disappointment. It was how Fernandez inspired his team to rally back from that frustration that led them to greatness in the WNIT.
Fernandez said USF will have Jordao and maybe even Laksa back next season. He’ll also have a squadron full of sophomores who remember this season and will use it as fuel to their fire.
“I think this is going to be great for the future,” Fernandez said.