Women’s basketball: Seniors reflect on careers, ready to go out on high note

first_imgAfter a combined 216 games, 1,235 shots and 1,431 points between seniors Cassie Rochel and Jacki Gulczynski, only three guaranteed games separate them from hanging up their jerseys for the last time as members of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team.As the two teammates reminisced about their proudest moments and harshest struggles over the past three-plus seasons, one thing was certain: Their actual experience was far from what they expected as wide-eyed freshmen stepping onto the Kohl Center court for the first time.Initially thrown off by the unexpected workload that came with Division I college athletics, Gulczynski believed that incoming freshman usually don’t understand the sacrifices that come with signing a letter of intent.“I think it’s a lot more work than you anticipate when you come in, especially on the conditioning end,” Gulczynski said. “I don’t think you realize how much training goes into not just playing the game, but getting in the weight room and doing extra conditioning on your own.”For Rochel, adapting to the demands of college athletics was just the tip of the iceberg of challenges.Arriving at Wisconsin at an awkward time for the program – when former coach Lisa Stong left and current head coach Bobbie Kelsey took over – Rochel was required to learn two completely different systems under two different head coaches. Rochel felt like she had to start from scratch her sophomore year with Kelsey’s arrival.“I went through my freshman year almost twice,” Rochel said.Kelsey pointed to that setback as a possible explanation for Rochel’s hesitation as an underclassman.“When we first got here, she had no confidence,” Kelsey said. “I had never really coached somebody with that height and ability that just didn’t believe in themselves at all.”Little by little, however, Rochel showed signs of promise in her sophomore season. In what Kelsey saw as Rochel’s “turning point,” she finally had her breakout game against Montana State in November 2011, racking up 14 points and 11 rebounds for her first career double-double.Despite experiencing some setbacks from that point on, including a severe back injury that forced her to redshirt last season, Rochel has persevered, starting 25 of 26 games in her final season and ranking second all-time in program history with 170 blocks.On the contrary, Gulczynski has had fewer setbacks over her years as a Badger, and since the start of the 2012-13 season, has been the model of consistency according to Kelsey.“After she hurt her hip her freshman year, she’s just been steady,” Kelsey said. “She’s always been playing, she’s been very fortunate. I can’t remember her injuring herself besides that one strange hip injury, and for one moment we thought she wouldn’t be able to play at all.”Gulczynski has played in 86 consecutive games since her sophomore season, earning two Academic all-Big Ten selections and an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten nod in 2013.Regardless of the different paths the two have taken to get to where they are today, January 31, 2013 marks the fondest memory both Gulczynski and Rochel experienced as Badgers.After being tossed aside 40-84 in one of the program’s worst losses to Penn State just two weeks before, the Badgers matched up against the Nittany Lions again. In what turned out to be one of the most shocking upsets in school history, Wisconsin knocked off the then seventh-ranked team in the nation in a 63-61 thriller, notching just their second conference win of the season.Gulczynski, who hit four of her five three-point attempts to the tune of 16 points in the win, said the victory was especially memorable due to the circumstances involved. Without any real stars on the roster, it was a truly collaborative effort.“The feeling after beating them was like we were on top of the world, like we had just won something outlandish,” Gulczynski said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of talent, but we were a team.”That team aspect, which is something Gulczynski and Rochel believe they had taken for granted over the years, is the aspect they both will miss the most once all is said and done.Rochel said the countless hours spent bonding on long flights, bus rides and during training sessions will soon be cherished memories instead of parts of their everyday lives.“It’s almost like a sisterhood. A lot of these guys I will obviously stay in touch with,” Rochel said. “When we move on, they’re a phone call away, but you’re going to have to find time to meet up with them.”The strong bond Rochel, Gulczynski and the rest of the team share is a quality Kelsey said she is proud of as a coach and something that she believes has helped her team maintain a positive attitude and tenacity through thick-and-thin.With the seniors leading the way, Kelsey expects nothing less than that same mindset until the final buzzer of the season.“We want to go out on a high note,” Kelsey said. “We’ve been close, and I just feel bad for the whole team, especially the seniors because it just hasn’t probably panned out like they would’ve envisioned it.“But when you have a coaching change and injuries, it may not. To their credit they stuck with us, and we stuck with them. Everybody’s time comes, and it’s their time, but they can finish strong. We believe there’s still a lot of season left.”last_img read more