Everything About This Dance is Big

By KRISTA REDPATH PYRON

I started to write this blog post 5 different times since Saturday night.  Each time I felt so scattered with excitement that I lost my train of thought.

In case you have had your head buried in the sand, the #4 seed Lady Griz made a thrilling 3-game run in Portland this past weekend to advance our program for the 19th time to the NCAA tournament.

Even better, I just learned they earned a #14 seed and will play  #3 UCLA in Spokane this Saturday.  As my 3 year old would say, “Wowza, Mommy!”

I can’t even begin to tell you what an accomplishment it is to make it to this very elite tournament.    Every year at this time brings back a lot of NCAA memories of my own.

I was fortunate to play in 4 “Big Dance” tournaments.  I remember each game down to the smallest details, from the welcoming fruit basket in the locker room, to plays that were or weren’t executed properly, to participating in a NCAA final 64 press conference.

Still to this day I have difficulty talking about the 1 point loss to Texas Tech at Stanford when we were a #9 seed in 1997.  This past summer at my Grandma’s house at Flathead Lake,  I located an old VHS copy of that game (yes I played in the days of VHS!!) and I got a case of the goose bumps, 14 years later.

You ask any member of our team about that game and we all pause for a thoughtful moment of silence.   However upsetting this loss was, I will have this tournament in my heart forever.  We earned every bit of that #9 seed.

Ok, let’s back up.  The dream of making the big dance.  I want to touch on this briefly because I think there will be a lot of you out there that can relate.  For me it was something I started imagining when I was a young kid and it became more of a reality when I became a Lady Griz.

In fact it was expected when you played for the Lady Griz to make the NCAA tournament.   I never felt the unhealthy pressure thing, just expectations.  I also realized in a short hurry that successful programs won championships and advanced to the NCAAs in the off-season.

The less dramatic, hard fought days at Playfair, the endless days of shooting the same shots from the same spots in the same gyms… day in and day out.  Basketball is a fascinating game where I truly believe team camaraderie and relationships win championships.

I firmly admit the reason I played in 4 NCAA tournaments was not because we had the most athletic girls or the best shooters ever, it was because we knew how to play with each other when it counted.

Fast forward past my career to March 4, 2004.  One of the most emotional experiences as a Lady Griz was watching from the stands sitting next to my friend and former teammate Carla Beattie Cunneen during the first round of the NCAA tournament in Missoula, Montana.

The Lady Griz were seeded #13 against a very big and talented # 4 seed, Louisiana Tech.  Ahead by as many as 11 points in the second half, Katie Edwards and Julie Deming (two of my favorite people and fantastic basketball players) had phenomenal games leading the Lady Griz.  It was a heart breaker to lose in front of a packed house at Dahlberg Arena.

It was also one of those games that is painful to relive.  However, both of the games that I reference in this post: one that I played in, the other that I watched, are the reasons that we compete at this level.

So when you are tuning in this Saturday to cheer on our beloved Lady Griz… appreciate the battle these girls went though to get to this game.  This is the Lady Griz spirit that keeps on living through all of us that ever wore a Lady Griz uniform.

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Krista Redpath Pyron played basketball for the Lady Griz from 1995-2000 and went on to play professional basketball for Virum in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Krista is self-employed and resides in beautiful Missoula with her husband Dave and their two young boys, Evan & Oliver.  She looks forward to writing frequently about her extended family–The LadyGriz.