Tears of growth and faithful smiles
The emotions on sophomore guard Mackenzie Loesing's face told the story.
Her eyes were puffy and pink as she sat down at Quicken Loans Arena's press table following the women's basketball team's 74-60 quarterfinal loss to Ball State March 13. She almost immediately put her head down on the table between her arms as head coach Felisha Legette-Jack gave her opening statement.
Everybody in the media room knew what Loesing had been doing those 20 minutes before addressing the media. And I think we all understood why.
She's one of the - if not the - best and most important players on the team and she hadn't played her best game. Maybe she felt as if she let down the seniors who won't play for Buffalo again. Loesing led the Bulls with 16.3 points per game this season, but struggled and only shot 4 for 20 for 10 points in the final and most important contest of the season.
Legette-Jack described Loesing's style of play as irreplaceable for the Bulls and a major reason they had the fourth-best record in the conference.
"Mackenzie is a jackknife," Legette-Jack said after the loss. "She's going to play hard. She's going to give everything she has. She believes in what we are trying to create. She believes in the system and I just know she is going to continue to get better."
When asked her first question, Loesing's voice trembled. But as she continued speaking, she regained her composure.
"I think anyone who follows [Mid-American Conference] women's basketball can see that transformation that has happened in the past few years here," Loesing said. "I think, yes, our future is very exciting, but we should have had it this year."
Her tears prove this is not just something she knows she is supposed to say. She thoroughly believes it.
Emotional press conferences after a Buffalo women's basketball MAC Quarterfinal game are a rarity - largely because the Bulls seldom get that far. And when the Bulls have reached this stage, they've overachieved and played with 'house money.'
That's not the case anymore. Loesing wasn't satisfied with the team's season - not in that moment at least. I'm sure many in the locker room shared her sentiment.
Despite its 17-win season - the most since 2002-03 - the team felt it could have done more. The Bulls not only say they want to win a championship, but they truly believe they should.
"It's never comfortable or fun to be in this position," Loesing said. "Obviously coming in, we believed we could be MAC champs, so to see that dream go away so soon was unexpected."
Luckily for Loesing, she has two more chances to raise a banner into Alumni Arena's rafters. Senior guard Margeaux Gupilan - who was sitting next to Loesing in the press conference - doesn't have that luxury. She graduates with 358 career assists - the sixth most in program history - but was unable to earn a title. The Bulls won 16, nine and 12 games, respectively, in her previous three seasons. Last season was the first time she ever won a MAC Tournament game.
Legette-Jack said Gupilan told her after the game she wishes she was just a sophomore, saying, "It seemed like the first two years I wasted time," according to Legette-Jack.
"I think if you add five minutes to that game, we would come out winners," Loesing said after the 74-60 loss.
In all honesty, this wasn't the case. Regardless of who may be the better team, there's no question Ball State was superior on that Thursday. Still, she said those words with so much confidence you have to wonder if that's how the entire locker room felt.
If they did, it's because of Legette-Jack. Her personality is contagious. She does everything with so much passion and emotion that you can't help but be captivated by her presence. The team has rallied around her spirit and taken it in.
Legette-Jack is never shy about expressing her faith in God. She's always thankful to Athletic Director Danny White for the opportunity to coach again. And she constantly expresses pride for her team.
"Something I can assure you is that everyone who played us, they know that there was nothing left after the game was over - whether we won or lost," Legette-Jack said.
Even during Thursday's press conference, she was smiling. She opened with a joke about how the podium was so far off the ground - much different from Alumni Arena.
Legette-Jack better get used to bigger podiums - she's likely to be sitting upon them much more frequently in the near future. She even mentioned the Bulls had an "outside shot" at the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) - a statement that though unrealistic, displayed just how much confidence she has in her team.
With a smile on her face, Legette-Jack closed the press conference saying, "Certainly understanding I don't lose easily but I know what our future has and I'm just so excited about our future because it's very, very bright."
The future is indeed bright. Twelve months from now, Loesing may be back on that podium, sitting next to Legette-Jack with a smile on her face instead of tears.
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