August 22, 2007

Battle: Women's Basketball Turns Up Intensity

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Originally published July 16, 2007

This column appears in the 2007 edition of The Sun’s annual Freshman Issue.

In the Battle series, Sports editors chose their favorite Cornell sports to watch, and defended their selection (with valor).

The transcript you are about to read is not a transcript at all. It is an artistic rendering edited for the sake of your virgin ears.
“Are you out of your [blazin’] mind?! This is a [flippin’] joke!”
The words bounced off the walls like nails being dropped in a bucket.
“That’s not a foul, but you gave that call to them at the other end! [Gosh], you’re the [darn-tootin’] worst refs I’ve ever seen. This is ridiculous!”
A quivering, frail, middle-aged woman was launching a verbal assault on the referees from the Yale women’s basketball team’s bench. She was leaping out of her seat every few minutes as if she was a scrawny pit bull racing frantically toward each passing car, only to be yanked back every time when the give in the chain ran out.
I was in the stands behind Cornell’s bench — and could still here every word of the tirade. Hell, the whole audience could.
“Hey, why don’t you try actually coaching your team?” a Cornell parent suggested from the audience. To everyone’s surprise, the irate coach turned around.
“I can’t coach a lick with these refs. I bet you think you could do a better job, though, right? You wanna try? Huh?”
As soon as I was convinced Chuck Liddell was going to show up with The Octagon for the two baby-boomers to rumble, UFC style, the coach tore her attention away from the audience and back to verbally tormenting the bewildered refs.
Every sport has its share of personalities. I can’t even imagine the crazy things that happen on the field, at the bench and in the huddle during games that the audience never knows about. How great would it have been to hear first-hand Scottie Pippen lean in to Karl Malone during the 1997 finals and tell him — “The mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays?”
Well, if that ever happened at a Cornell women’s basketball game, you would hear it. People love to wax poetic about the intimate nature of Lynah rink. But I must say, while I am a hockey season-ticket holder and die-hard fan, I found myself sprinting over to Newman Arena during intermissions to catch a glimpse of the women’s basketball team. Each time I stayed little longer — and not only so I could ask head coach Dayna Smith coherent questions later.
If you are looking for a true intimate atmosphere at Cornell, take a seat a few rows behind the women’s basketball team’s bench and watch the drama unfold. There are so many wonderful details to pick up on that you couldn’t get at any other sporting event at Cornell.
Listen to assistant coach Dale Parker’s quips as he mixes insight with biting humor while he talks to players and works the refs.
See how many clichéd rotten vegetables you can throw at Dayna Smith before you break her concentration. Her focus ranks just below a beer vendor at Wrigley Field who did not even blink when a bat flew out of a Cubs player’s hands and spiraled mere inches above his head. Yet, despite her pugnacious nature on the sidelines, when the final buzzer sounds, she immediately becomes soft-spoken, friendly and engaging.
The personality of this team extends beyond the sideline. Unlike football and hockey, when players are separated from the audience by equipment, masks and a massive amount of fans (by Cornell standards), these players’ personas are on their sleeves (or arms, whatever) every game.
Watch forward Jeomi Maduka’s expression during the whole game. If you felt compelled to graph it (admittedly a stretch), it would look like a patient that had just flat lined. It’s all a ruse, though. Jeomi plays with an intense nature. Her drives are like LeBron’s in nature — not pretty or fancy, but bulldog forceful and straighter than a ruler. She gets to the line more than Dwayne Wade in the ’06 NBA Finals, and loves to push the ball, grabbing the rebound and bulldozing down the court.
Take a look at forward Moina Snyder. O.k., you think, someone played a mean joke and withheld food from this girl during her formative years. She’s not that skinny, though, she’s just French, and thus impervious to American obesity. She uses her lanky body in a craftier manner than any other player on the court. She Dennis Rodman’s her way to rebounds and blocks she has no right getting. She has as many blocks as the rest of the team — combined (36)
While you’re at the game, make sure you stay on the lookout for a sighting of point guard Lauren Benson’s crossover. It’s an ankle-breaking, AND1 worthy move, and gets her out of countless tight spots in the backcourt. It’s crisper than a snap and makes me bounce up and down and giggle like Homer Simpson when he hears the word titmouse.
The true nature of the team’s confidence comes from Shannan Scarselletta, who is the team’s Anderson Varejao. She’s all energy, all the time. She wills her line-drive jump shot into the net, and refuses to quit in the lane with her clunky, but effective, touch, going after the offensive board relentlessly until she puts it in. Two years ago she predicted that the team would win an Ivy League title before she left — a bold statement at the time. But it looks like a very real possibility after a year where the young squad was in contention for first place all season long, finishing only a few games behind Harvard (side note: Harvard has this girl that is 6-8. She can’t jump a lick or run the floor, but pulls a Wilt Chamberlain, parking herself under the basket and grabbing rebound after rebound while other players jump uselessly for the ball like Keebler Elves trying to pick apples. This alone makes it worth going to at least one women’s basketball game this season. Last year, she had 18 points and 13 boards in 12 minutes. That’s right, 12 minutes.)
So next time the zamboni comes out of the tunnel onto the ice, don’t make awkward small talk with the people squished next to you. Get some fresh air and enjoy the sights and sounds of a women’s basketball game. You won’t regret it.