A Perfect Season
March 11, 2013
Returning to the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament brought a wave of emotions and memories for Desiree Miller.
One year ago, she and her University of Wisconsin-Whitewater teammates won the program's first-ever title, putting the Warhawk women on the national wheelchair basketball map.
"Every championship is different," Miller said. "We wanted it so bad last year that raw hunger pushed us over the top. This year, I wanted to win for all the new players on the team and for all their hard work."
Entering the 2013 tournament, the Warhawks were bursting with confidence, coming off a dominating 26-0 season.
"It's interesting being the favorite," said Miller. "You play differently than if you're the underdog. At the same time, it can get really hard to defend a winning streak when people are gunning for you."
Their opponents, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, had a lot to fight for.
They were looking to recapture the crown they previously held for three years before their loss to the Warhawks. Plus, they had a home crowd behind them.
From the beginning of the game, the Warhawks came out strong.
"We started with high energy and were pretty comfortable shooting, never giving away the lead," said Mareike Adermann.
UW-Whitewater built a sizable lead by halftime, leading 31-23.
"Defensively, we executed phenomenally. We put a game plan in place and had a great understanding of what we wanted to do," said Dan Price, head coach. "We had support from everybody."
Four players - Adermann, Mariska Beijer, Miller and Becca Murray - played in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Adermann won gold with the German team. Beijer, who played for the Netherlands, defeated Miller, Murray and their American teammates in the bronze medal game.
"That experience provided us with a level of knowledge to overcome close, stressful situations," Miller said. "We didn't get too rattled."
While the Warhawks controlled most of the game, Alabama went on a strong run in the second half to cut UW-Whitewater's lead from double-digits to four points.
"Playing in the Paralympics gave us the poise that when a team goes on a run, we just stop it instead of getting frantic," Murray said.
Murray, who was named Most Valuable Player at the tournament, scored half (28) of UW-Whitewater's total points.
"Offensively, Becca carried us, hitting shot after shot," said Price. "She had a look on her face that read 'get me the ball.' She was on fire."
When the final buzzer sounded, the score was 56-41. The Warhawks were champions. 27-0. Perfect.
"It felt really good," said Adermann, who scored 11 points. "We've never been that successful before and it means a lot. Being so consistent shows how hard we worked over the season, through every practice, scrimmage and competition."
"As a veteran, sometimes I forget how exciting these things can be. Looking at the newer girls' reactions reminded me what it's really about," Miller said. "We knew we wanted to have fun, too. We achieved that. There were a lot of smiles."