Dear Louisville Women’s Basketball,
I’m simply not sure where to start; friday night was a tough pill to swallow, and a hard loss to endure. There have been a handful of emotions to untangle, but the main one that has remained constant is gratitude. A loss in the Final Four does not erase a season full of tremendous moments. It doesn’t take away how magical this season was, nor does it tarnish the legacy of this team. In fact, I’d argue that it does the opposite.
I remember talking to Jeff Walz before the season and him telling me that this team was going to be special. At the time, my reaction was, “well coach, aren’t your teams always special?” After all, the only three constants in life are death, taxes, and the Louisville women’s basketball team being good. It wasn’t the fact that I disagreed with Coach, because I didn’t. It was moreso me expecting the Cardinals to be great once again. But from the beginning, there was something special about this group.
We watched you all win every single home game, including a blowout victory against Michigan and a rivalry win over Kentucky. Man oh man, how I missed having fans pack the Yum Center. There is zero doubt that this program is a pillar of this fanbase, this community, and this city. We witnessed the glorious win over UCONN at the Mohegan Sun. But in the tough losses on the road in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, we never stopped believing in you guys.
Every Louisville team from year-to-year is different in terms of strengths and personality. I will mostly remember this team for the unapologetic swagger and relentless work ethic, but the bond is what stood out to me. Emily and Hailey crying at the podium after the Elite Eight, the various celebrations after big wins, and much more. The way you carried yourselves with your heart on your sleeves trickled down into the fanbase.
The Yum Center was rocking all season long; the support was higher than it has ever been, or so I felt. You may have felt under appreciated by the rest of the country, but I can promise you that those in the 502 that we cherished every single moment of the ride. It was one for the books, and I’m sad to see it end.
To Chelsie Hall: thank you for coming into the program and assisting this team with your leadership and poise on and off the court.
To Kianna Smith: three years have gone by too fast. Thank you for coming to Louisville and playing a huge role in the success here over that timeframe. You came in as a promising transfer that was projected to be key in the rotation, and you leave as a 1,000-point scorer and a Louisville favorite.
To Emily Engstler: oh, Emily. I remember hearing about you transferring to Louisville and being instantly excited. I knew we needed more athleticism and a versatile wing. What I didn’t know at the time, was that we needed you for so much more than that. Your New York swagger was evident from game one, and it was a joy to watch you display your toughness up until the season ended. We needed your relentless and unapologetic hustle, just like we needed your passion and your fire. With this season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to flip the script. We need you to understand how much we as fans appreciated everything: the way you represented Louisville, all of the steals, etc. If this is the end of your journey here, all I can say is that the only thing we regret is that it only lasted one year.
To Olivia Cochran: you gave it your all. You left it all out on the court every single game, and then some. We appreciate that fire and passion to help this team regardless of pain and are so excited for your future here.
To Hailey van Lith: the season may not have started out the greatest, but you turned it up; you rose to a new level and took the ACC by storm. We have watched you rise into stardom and continue to embrace the expectations. The last game may not have been the best, but I have no doubt that your junior season will be historical. You truly are an icon for the youth across the country; that Mamba-mentality will help you achieve all of your goals.
To Mykasa, Liz, Payton, Norika, Payton, Ahlana, and the rest of the team: thank you for all of your contributions, from the smothering defense to the electric and contagious passion that each of you all have poured into this program.
To Coach Walz and the rest of the staff: it may not have been the result we wanted, but we’re still extremely thankful for your respective roles on the court and in this community.
*Special note to my buddy Sam Purcell: Starkville is getting one of the best; thank you for everything, I seriously mean that. Mississippi State will be great for years to come.*
I guess the last thing that I have to say is that the marathon continues. This program will win a national championship; I firmly believe that. I have no doubt that you all do too. When you all open up the 2022-23 campaign in the yum, the fanbase will be ready. The road to Dallas starts now.
Dalton Pence, just another women’s basketball fan