Jan. 30, 2014
by Courtney Waldon - @wheresWALDOn12
Sometimes in the wake of tragedy and loss, teams come together and find the will to win to honor those who have been lost. The past week has brought a horrifying shooting on Purdue's campus and the loss of the Boilers' biggest fan, Riley Smith. Riley suffered from Niemann-Pick type C disease, a genetic disease that affects the nervous system. While I have never personally met the Smith family, they periodically show up to practice with a smile on their face. No matter how tough of a practice the girls are having, the sight of the Smith's immediately brightens the day of the entire team and coaches. Her brother Keaton, also suffering from Niemann-Pick type C, will continue to show his face around practice and games.
The news of Riley's passing came just before the Nebraska game. Since then the team has been playing with heavy hearts and it has proven to be the motivation needed to begin their winning streak. Consecutive wins against Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern and Illinois have brought the ladies back to within two games of Penn State in the B1G standings.
As head representative of the RIP Squad, I like to think our attendance and effort (or sometimes the lack there of) at practice leads to success for the ladies on the big stage. The coaches have told us this is true many times, but nothing proves it like seeing them shut down the star player(s) of the opposition. Some teams such as Nebraska boast a solid team and allow the RIP Squad to use what skills we possess to our full potential. For example, Jordan Hooper is the B1G's third leading scorer and doesn't think twice about shooting challenged (some call them bad) shots. This means I get the assignment of "being" Hooper during practice for however many days they prepare for Nebraska. I, also, have a knack for shooting some shots that most wouldn't consider to be quality looks at the basket.
Whatever the RIP Squad and I did must have worked. Hooper was held to 9 points and the ladies made Nebraska realize that their fancy, new arena wasn't going to help them beat the Boilers. While the game seemed destined for another overtime (three of the previously four matchups have entered OT), Whitney Bays saved the day with a put back that would ultimately be the winner. I call Bays a "gamer", that is, someone who plays with more intensity in games than in practice (insert Allen Iverson practice rant here).
A drumming of Northwestern at home and a strong showing at Illinois has kept the winning streak alive heading into an important week to gain ground in the conference. In preparation for Northwestern, the RIP Squad was forced to attend all classes and complete an entire semester's worth of assignments to prove we were mentally ready to run Northwestern's plays. It was apparent that Liza Clemons came to play against the Wildcats.
Liza went off for 23 points and 10 rebounds, we call that a double-double around these parts. See, Liza and I have a love-hate relationship. We're cool with each other, but she has a tendency to grab me during practice to keep from running down the floor and loves to talk down to us when we miss a shot or turn the ball over. You could say more hate than love exists between us. The best part about Liza during practice is the excessive yelling. It's not quite a yell and it's not a scream, it's a mix of the two. This outcry comes occurs she makes a mistake, and some days it happens more than others. Naturally, I inquired why she feels the need to make this noise that sounds like she's dying. Her response was, "Because I can't do it in games." There you have it, folks.
A rematch against B1G leader Penn State (yeah, we took their pride from them at home... get it? ... Lions, pride...) will most likely involve the Lady Lions looking for vengeance and more of Maggie Lucas' animated high-shot volume. Coach Versyp and the staff put together a game plan that seemed to have Penn State wandering aimlessly on offense for a good part of the first meeting. The funny thing is, "wandering aimlessly" is exactly how you would describe the practice squad on most days. A showdown in Mackey is guaranteed on Thursday night when Penn State comes to town.
The Boilers are set for a jaunt north to East Lansing and battle the Spartans for prime position in the conference. Some non-conference losses caused Sparty to drop out of the rankings, but their showings in Big Ten play have them tied for second in the conference. Consecutive home losses to Illinois and Penn State dropped them from the Big Ten's top spot. They return three starters from last year's squad and have a few players back from injury, one of them being Madison Williams.
For those of you who don't know Williams' story, she returned from three ACL tears earlier this year and had missed all but three games in her career. Her story has stolen the hearts of many basketball fans around the country (including the one and only Jay Bilas). A close friend of mine, and even though I probably shouldn't talk up the opposition, she's deserving of a mention or two. Madison (or "Madi") has been through more than any athlete should have to endure. Now that she has returned to the floor where she belongs after fighting her body for so long, I couldn't be more proud of her. It doesn't matter how she performs the rest of her career, she's already won.
Make no mistake, Boiler fans, this week is a big one. If you want to compare its significance to something, compare it to how significant Terone Johnson's floater is to his success. In other words, it's pretty important to how the team will move forward in the season. Only eight conference games remain on the schedule and getting two W's would push the ladies into a good spot. As for the RIP Squad, we continue our daily practice routine, wandering aimlessly around the floor awaiting the chance for glory in front of a roaring home crowd. Though we all acknowledge it will never come, we know what we signed up for and continue to have our egos kept in check by the ladies.
Until next time, Boiler Up!