The Kent State women's basketball team has displayed an inner toughness that few squads can match.
The team started the 2000-01 season with two All-Mid-American Conference selections lost to graduation in Dawn Zerman and Alana Bader. Then in the preseason, junior starter Jamie Rubis became ill and had to sit out the year.
Prospects of repeating as MAC champions were indeed dim as Kent State coach Bob Lindsay had to insert two freshmen, Lori Krezeczowski and Christi Shibata, into the starting lineup.
Yet after a 3-5 start, the Golden Flashes dug in and won 18-of-20 games before falling in the MAC Tournament championship game in overtime to Toledo.
That 74-65 loss, one that stings the players the most because Flashes had a 38-15 halftime lead, was the talk of the Kent State community. Would of, should of, could of theories abound.
While a trip to the NCAA Tournament was denied, the team has gone about its business with slightly bruised egos. It is just a bump in life's road and they know it.
Rest assured, Kent State will be back next year with a team that will be contending for another MAC title.
"This team accomplished a lot considering the problems we had and the lack of depth on the squad," said head coach Bob Lindsay. "Certainly the last game was a disappointment, but not one that we can base the whole season on.
"The seniors contributed a lot to the success of the team. They went out the door with quite a record for four years."
This senior class of Julie Studer, Carrie Nance, Liz Beggs and Lisa Wube has much to be proud of. Studer, Nance and Beggs have a 43-game home win streak. They appeared in two NCAA Tournaments and played in four MAC title games, winning two.
Their career team record includes four 20-win seasons. As freshmen, the Flashes were 23-7. Seasons of 22-7, 25-6 and this year's 21-8 followed. They leave behind a fine tradition.
"This wasn't a rah-rah group of kids," said Lindsay. "They did what they could by playing hard every day. It was their personality."
Studer, a 6-foot-4 center from Mansfield, was named to the All-MAC first team. Quiet and unassuming, she led by example, averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. She scored 53 points in the first two MAC Tournament games.
Not being named MAC Player of the Year was a miscarriage of justice according to several other MAC coaches. No other player did more in less minutes (25 per game) than Studer. And she did it after having two different stress fractures in her feet during the course of the last three years.
Her pain threshold was admired by her teammates and coaches alike. No question her courage ranks with the greatest of all Kent State stars.
Nance was nicknamed the silent assassin early in her career. It was aptly put because she would quietly put up great statistics all through her career.
Nance is fifth on the all-time list for steals with 279. She has scored more than 1,000 points, averaging 14.6 this season.
Nance was the complete player, playing 35 minutes per game. She often drew the opponent's best offensive player on defense. She was easily the quickest player on the floor. Her moves to the basket at full speed were a thing of beauty, as she earned second team All-MAC honors.
Beggs was the player who did hard work in the trenches. At 6-1, Beggs played center early in her career. But this season, when sophomore Katalin Kollat went down with a stress fracture and Rubis was out, Beggs played strong forward.
More than an adequate defensive player, Beggs often defended the opposing center. She once held Buffalo's Tiffany Bell, one of the best offensive players in the MAC, to six points.
Beggs averaged 8.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. She tied the NCAA record for consecutive foul shots made with 20 against St. Bonaventure in the season opener.
Wube averaged 13 minutes a ballgame off the bench. When Kent State went to a fullcourt press, Wube could be counted on for causing turnovers because of her quickness. She had tremendous open court speed and could run down anyone in the league.
"We have 10 scholarship players coming back to date," noted Lindsay. "We're still recruiting. We want to have at least 12 on board by next year."
Two starters are back in Krezeczowski and Shibata.
Krezeczowski (6.3 ppg, 4.7 assists) is a point guard who slowly developed into a good playmaker. She found her shooting range near the end of the season and took some of the pressure off Studer.
Shibata (9.3 ppg, 4.4 rbs) played small forward. Once she has offseason knee surgery, she will be able to show fans her true speed. Coaches claim her to be one of the better athletes on the team.
Fans are looking forward to seeing more of Andrea Csaszar (8.8 ppg). The 6-7 center from Hungary led the team in blocked shots, although she was only on the floor 17 minutes per game.
"Csaszar is very likable," said Lindsay. "She knows what she has to do in the offseason, and that is get stronger."
Kollat appeared in the last seven games but had a noticeable limp. If she returns in good shape, she adds another dimension to Kent State's team. She is a good rebounder and has a good shooting touch.
Morgan O'Hara saw plenty of action at point guard off the bench. She gained lot of confidence over the course of the season.
Melissa Colecchi was a much-needed walk-on. The Flashes were shorthanded for much of the season, so the former Rootstown High School star was valuable during practice.
Whether or not Rubis is back is up to her doctors. Bear in mind she was a two-year starter. Three other players that sat out last season will also join the squad: Kate Miller (America University) and Valerie Zona (West Virginia) are transfer players, while LaToyia Hall (Prop 48) is a redshirt freshman.
"There will be some question marks with next year's team," concluded Lindsay. "There are some holes to fill scoring wise and leadership wise. The transfer kids can score. We will have to see how the blend works next year.
"We need some perimeter depth. I would like to add one more wing player and a point guard. We might add a transfer player who we recruited who now wants to play at Kent State.
"Basically, we want to sign two more kids in the next couple of weeks. We are never through recruiting. It is a year-long process."
Already in the fold are two student-athletes who signed letters of intent, Lindsay said. The Flashes received signed commitments last fall from 6-5 center Tiffanie Hager (Bidwell/Gallia Academy) and 6-1 guard/forward Ashley Clark (Cincinnati/McNicholas).