(Editor's note: Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior Maria Viall, a 6-foot-3 center who just became the Panthers' all-time leading scorer, has shared a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season.)
March 2, 2004
Well, I think this might be one of my last entries for the year, but I never really know. This season has been so memorable but still trucking along. We finished our conference season in second place. We had the opportunity to tie for first, but lost to Loyola University right before we played the No. 1 seed for a share of the title.
Although we had that upset loss against Loyola, our coach always tells us that we need to learn from our losses and consider mistakes blessings in the fact that it gives us an opportunity to become better from them. That attitude definitely proved true on Feb. 23 when we played UW-Green Bay (which is the No.1 team in our league and a big in-state rival) at home.
It was a very emotional night for two reasons. First, it was Senior Night, meaning that it was going to be the last conference game I would play at the Klotsche Center. Since I am the only player on the team who is a senior, it was really hard to see my entire team lined up on the floor to present me with a gift. It was great, though, because my entire family came down and walked with me (my mom got very choked up). One of my good friends, Brian, has been our manager since I was a freshman, and he, too, was being honored for Senior Night, so I wasn't completely alone.
The second and most important reason that the night was so emotional was the fact that we beat Green Bay. It was such a great game and our team played so well and together. It is a bummer that we could've tied for the league title, but as Coach Botham said, we never know -- the loss to Loyola might have given us motivation going into Green Bay.
After the win over Green Bay, we still had business to take of at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Although the team is in last place, it was not a team for us to overlook! They had just taken Green Bay into overtime at home and always play very well on their court. It was a very fun road trip to finish off the conference season. My dad, my boyfriend, Michael, and my two brothers surprised me by making the eight-hour trip to come watch us play. It meant so much to me. I love them!
Our team played well and came out with a win to end the season. It was great. I was unaware of all the hype, but I had been told that I was 21 points away from breaking the scoring record at UWM. I wasn't paying any attention to it during the game, but after I made the second of two free throws with less than a minute to play, my teammates were jumping up and down, cheering for me. I didn't even realize I had made the 21st point.
I have such amazing teammates and I truly believe that our team is the best team in the nation. Our team agreed that if there were such an award, we would win it hands down. There is such a feeling of togetherness and support for one another (plus, we have so much fun with each other, especially on this last road trip!).
After our game, all of the family and friends who came were invited to eat with our team at the hotel. We had a blast! I don't know how it started but we ended up playing baseball with a little plastic basketball. We used the corners as bases and our hands as the bat. It was crazy!! Add a few games of Mafia-Spy and Circle Tag, and there you have it. It's official -- we are the best team in the country when it comes to fun!
Anyway back to business, now that the conference season is over, we have to focus on the up-and-coming tournament. The best part about it is that we get to host all of the games we play in. It will definitely be great to have our home-court advantage as well as our fans to come cheer us on. We host No.7-seeded University of Illinois-Chicago this Thursday at 7 p.m., so if you're in the area, come on out.
Coach Botham told us that we are only talking about the game on Thursday and no other ones in the future. We need to concentrate on one game at a time. I believe that our team is capable of great things and I know that we all have the same goal in mind ... but right now, we are just looking at Thursday.
Good luck to all the teams starting their tournaments and talk to you all soon. Go Panthers!
For more on Viall or Wisconsin-Milwaukee, visit the Panthers' official athletic site.