In a season that has thus far showcased more roller coaster moments than a summer day at Cedar Point, the University of Louisville Women's Basketball team has managed to most recently hit it's highest point. Head Coach Jeff Walz and his Lady Cards, following a gut wrenching two point win at NC State this past Sunday, have now won eleven straight games and are unbeaten in ACC play flaunting an unscathed 6-0 record.
Admittedly, like the majority of other UofL fans, I had very high expectations for this year's women's team. After all, Walz and his staff were able to land the #1 recruiting class in the nation in 2015 (depending on which recruiting site you follow) highlighted by the top overall player in America, Asia Durr. So, with the return of players like Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen as well as the addition of transfer Briahanna Jackson, it would have been a no brainer that this UofL women's team would be unblemished in conference play and in the nation's Top 25 right?
Not so fast......
In the most uncharacteristic way, the 2015-16 Lady Cards opened the season losing four of it's first five games. Many observers, including those who attend games and others who pose as message board gurus, quickly pushed the panic button and started asking the seemingly unthinkable: Have Jeff Walz's best days as a head coach at Louisville come and gone? Has the long string of excellence and program changing performances become ancient history?
Fortunately, Walz knows more about basketball and managing collegiate athletes than most of us will ever comprehend. He and his staff never wavered despite his overly young team's slow start and stayed the course. Walz's approach would pay dividends as the Cards defied all odds and took down a top 20 Michigan State team in East Lansing. A huge confidence booster like winning on the road against a high quality opponent would presumably be just what the doctor would have prescribed for a team starving for confidence to never look back over it's shoulder and enter the annual showdown with in state rival Kentucky ready to regain bragging rights.
Not so fast, again......
In hitting it's lowest point of the season, Louisville was handled with ease by Kentucky as the Cats coasted to an 18 point win. Losing games is one thing. Losing games decisively when you are expected to win or be highly competitive is another. But losing to Kentucky, consistently at least, is a whole other dilemma that Louisville fans are sensitive to.
For the first time since I can remember as being a staunch Louisville fan, I started to hear and read a lot of negativity as it related to the women's program following the debacle in Lexington. Befuddled, I began to wonder how some folks could appear to turn on a dime so swiftly and began acting as if the long joyous ride of winning high stakes women's basketball game had come to a halt.
○ slowly steps onto soap box ○
One must begrudgingly admit that we as collegiate sports fans are at times coddled. And Louisville fans, myself included, can be not only coddled by downright spoiled at times. How could we not be? Our football team wins BCS bowl games, our men's basketball program brings home national championships, our baseball team plays in College World Series' and our volleyball team lives in the annual top 20. So please, don't get it twisted. I'm not implying that Louisville fans should come to accept mediocrity or not put an emphasis on winning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we as UofL fans must learn to cut down on the knee jerk reactions, allow the coaches to do what they are paid to do, and enjoy the development of the Louisville student athletes. These principles apply to all sports, not just women's basketball.
○ slowly steps off soap box ○
So the 2016 roller coaster ride continues for this Lady Cards squad. With some definite challenges lying ahead, ala Notre Dame (3), Miami (16) and Syracuse (24), one should expect even more ups and downs. Let's openly accept it and embrace it. It's part of being a great fan, a Cardinal fan. Thankfully, Jeff Walz has embraced the journey and has continued to see the bigger picture. Things are starting to click. The freshmen are growing up fast. Asia Durr is getting healthy. And more great fortune lies ahead as Walz & Co. not only have two future recruits playing in the upcoming 2016 McDonald's All-American game, but for the second straight year they have the top recruiting class in the nation signed and sealed.
Remember, whether high or low, it's never too late to join the ride and enjoy the fun. Hop on Card Nation.