Every year, the UConn women’s basketball team enters the season with a certain level of expectations. They’re expected to go to the Final Four because that’s what they’ve done for the past 14 years. They’re expected to at least make it to the Elite Eight because 16 year old fans don’t know a world without their Huskies making it that far. This is a great story and motivation; something for players to uphold and also fuel to the fire. There’s just one issue with it though: every team has their own story.
UConn came into Saturday’s game expecting that they’d make it another day. After all, losing to No. 3 seeds is not something they tend to do very frequently. Ohio State had a lot of motivation for this game though. Not only did they have to show former Buckeye Dorka Juhasz exactly why transferring two years ago was the wrong decision, but someone in the crowd gave them an extra boost.
That boost comes from star player Jacy Sheldon’s sister Emmy, who has Down Syndrome. The team has rallied around her for a long time and they all give her hugs after games. What’s more inspiring than that?
“She means everything to me,” Jacy told ABC WSYX of Emmy. “And I think she’s made a huge impact on our team as well, which has been cool to watch.”
One could argue that Sheldon and her sister are a more compelling story than Connecticut’s various streaks. So you have UConn and Ohio State’s stories, but that’s it, right? Nope! Every single one of the 363 teams that play their seasons has a narrative or a story that guides the way their year is treated. These come up in articles, Twitter threads and discussions at the local bar.
It’s easy to lose sight of this. When you follow a team for long enough, you feel like you’re a part of it. There’s a connection between you and the program, which can make it hard to remember that other teams also are dealing with the same thing. That’s among the reasons why losing is so hard. You think about your individual team’s stories, get wrapped up into them and feel like you’re robbed of its happy ending. This is normal and it happens to everyone who is a fan of a team.
When there’s sustained success though, this gets more severe. Your team wins four straight national championships and all of a sudden you don’t have to restructure your views ever. Every year is your team’s year and the banners that build up in the rafters give concrete evidence towards your point. Even when the bar lowers from titles to Final Fours, it still feels good that you’re part of something only three other teams can say they’re a part of. When that’s the mindset for two decades though, it feels like the sky is falling when all you do is make it to the Sweet 16.
Usually, Connecticut is so good that they can bypass other teams’ stories. When Breanna Stewart was in town, it didn’t matter how compelling your story was, you were losing. But now is the time for fans to rethink things. I’m not saying that UConn fans are “arrogant and spoiled” like Ed Cooley did and I’m also not saying that Geno Auriemma’s dynasty is over.
The point is that the feeling of the team deserving anything because they showed up and had a streak going in is ridiculous. Yes, this team went through a lot and they had all sorts of storylines, but so did every other team. It would have been cool for the program to come out of this season with some hardware to show for it, but it’s not always meant to be. 362 teams don’t win the title every year and 359 don’t make the Final Four. Having this happen every now and then is normal. The peaks of some top programs in men’s history are less impressive than the women’s last decade.
This year happened and UConn didn’t win the title, even though they had their story. Other teams had their own, something that will be critical for fans to accept in future years.