For the seniors on the Michigan”s women”s basketball team, the season was not supposed to be like this.
It was going to be the year where the Wolverines were going to go where they have never gone before. After three years of unparalleled success with two NCAA and one NIT bid, four starters returning and a 10-1 start, all signs were pointing in that direction. But between the season-ending ending injury to Raina Goodlow, the fallout of the defense and the pileup of turnovers, the Wolverines have found themselves with shattered dreams and a spot near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
“To be 10th place in the Big Ten is hard,” Alayne Ingram said.
For Ingram and Heather Oesterle, this season was going to be a payment for all the dividends they had earned since coming to Michigan. When Ingram and Oesterle came to Michigan, the program had only been to the NCAA Tournament once and rarely had a winning season.
“Heather and Alayne came to this program when you weren”t supposed to,” Guevara said. “If you wanted to play college women”s basketball and you wanted to win, you went some place else.”
But since they arrived, they have been a big part of the program”s resurgence, which makes this season”s disappointments all the more painful.
“I feel for them that they are having the season that we are having because all of us expected more,” Guevara said.
Because the Wolverines can no longer have a winning season in the Big Ten, making the NCAA Tournament would require winning the Big Ten Tournament. And for a group that had very realistic hopes of being a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosting the school”s first ever sub-regional, it”s been tough to swallow.
But for senior Susana Jara, this year has been a blessing despite the team”s play on the court. Right before her freshman year, Jara came to the program”s elite camp hoping to get a spot on the roster. She was cut but was offered a position as a manager. Then at walk-on tryouts in October, she gave the squad another shot only to be rejected again.
Despite her fallbacks, Jara stayed on the team as a manager and occasionally got into drills. But as injuries started to pile up, Jara finally got the chance she always wanted, the privilege of wearing the Michigan uniform.
“For three years she was the perfect practice player,” Guevara said. “Susana has never, ever, complained once about not playing.”
Then this year Jara”s hard work paid off, as she has averaged more than 15 minutes a game while starting in 15 contests.
“This year, to start games like she has, has been icing on the cake for her,” Guevara said. “She appreciates everything that she has earned. You could give her a pair of socks, and she is very grateful.”
As for the rest of this season, this trio is just trying to go practice by practice, game by game.
“The thing I fall back on is how much I like to play basketball,” Ingram said.
Ingram hopes that her career will not end in March because she aspires to play at the next level. She plans to attend the WNBA combine this April in Chicago and is hoping for the best.
While an WNBA combine invite would be a treat for Oesterle as well, she is just trying to get healthy. Ever since she injured her knee in last year”s Big Ten tourney every game has been a struggle.
“Heather is giving us as much as she can give us,” Guevara said. “I think Heather”s body is mad at her.”
But despite all the disappointments, Ingram, Oesterle and Jara still have work to do.
“My goal from now on is to finish this year strong,” Ingram said. “I”d like to finish out the way that I came in.”
And there is still one last chance. With the Big Ten Tournament on the horizon next week in Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, there is still an opportunity of making a statement, showing that this team is not what their record indicates.
“This team is very capable of doing that,” Ingram said.