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SCHMIDT: Lady Eagles lead a basketball revival

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After five months and 33 games, the Marquette women’s basketball team is now relegated to the past tense.

As in, the lady Golden Eagles were unexpectedly exceptional all year long. As in, senior guard Angel Robinson was so complete a player and so brimming with confidence, she was like two pounds of skills in a one-pound bucket. As in, this was the year women’s basketball came back from the dead.

When you win 24 games, play in the country’s toughest conference and earn an eighth-seed in the NCAA Tournament, those things are hard to forget.

Yep, it was a revival of sorts for coach Terri Mitchell, who from the very beginning of the season preached cryptically about being “on a mission.” She cited injuries as the reason this team lost its rhythm the last three years, and said that Robinson and the other five seniors would be the players to help the program get its groove back.

All year long, this team was definitely groovy. Good thing too, because they were dancing in March.

They went 10-6 in the Big East and earned a national ranking for much of the season, then defeated ninth-seeded Texas in the tournament’s opening round, 68-65. Unfortunately, the surprising run came to end against the top-seeded Tennessee Volunteers 79-70, in a closer-than-expected second round battle on Tennessee’s home court.

But honestly, this year wasn’t about winning titles or anything fancy. It was about earning the respect lost during a three-year stretch of futility and overflowing loss columns.

Robinson, of course, led the way. Her stats were solid, averaging 15.3 points per game and topping Marquette in multiple categories. But the stats don’t tell half the story.

She was the essence of this team, its heart and soul and magic. Perhaps no player outside of Connecticut’s wonder woman Maya Moore left such an identifiable mark on her team’s success. In a word, Robinson was remarkable. She is unquestionably one of the program’s all-time greats.

Outside of Robinson’s elegant dominance, this team was all about the senior redemption tour. Paige Fiedorowicz, Tatiyiana McMorris, Jasmine Collins and Courtney Weibel were freshmen on that much acclaimed and talked about 2007-’08 WNIT Championship team, but their careers have been up and down, as the lull during their sophomore and junior years was a major disappointment to everyone who recognized how much talent they had.

In climactic fashion, almost as if they realized the symmetry, the seniors made sure they finished things off the way they started them.

Naturally, the wins and the stats and the near-miraculous defeat of all-powerful Tennessee will have their place in Marquette history. But the best thing this team ever did was make us believe in them again.

This school revolves around the men’s squad. That’s not a secret but a simple fact. For one brief year, however, the women’s team was the better of the two. It had all the rankings and top-notch wins the men’s team could only dream of.

If you weren’t paying attention, you probably missed the grandness of the women’s season. You missed the grittiness, the in-your-faceness, the never-say-dieness.

This was a team that didn’t want to be forgotten.

And although it now exists purely in the past, remembering what they accomplished should never be a problem.

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