After the University at Buffalo’s 64-51 triumph against Kent State on Saturday, a reporter asked coach Felisha Legette-Jack her thoughts on when seniors Margeaux Gupilan and Jenna Rickan checked out of the game for the last time.
“I see what you’re trying to do,” said Legette-Jack, smiling. “You know I’m emotional. You know I might cry.”
Within seconds tears welled in Legette-Jack’s eyes as she recalled the careers of her seniors, which also include Cherridy Thornton, who is out for the season with an injury.
“No matter what I said, they believed me,” said Legette-Jack, wiping away a tear. “They believed they were supposed to be something significant because I told them. I have to be very careful with this group because they believe in what I say.”
And that probably includes winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship and it’s not far-fetched. Saturday’s win at Alumni Arena clinched the fourth seed and a bye in the tournament. The Bulls ended the regular season 17-12 overall and 10-8 in the league, the most victories in a season since 2003 and the most conference victories since 2001.
As she cried for her seniors, Legette-Jack also gained a measure of redemption. She gives credit to UB Athletics Director Danny White often and for good reason: He gave her a chance to continue coaching after she was dismissed by Indiana. Legette-Jack was on her way to being a life coach when White asked her to rebuild the Bulls last season.
“A lot of people who coach any sport assume that it’s their birthright to have an opportunity,” Legette-Jack said. “When you go through what I went through, to have this opportunity to be here … and to coach under an unbelievable administration, to have an unbelievable group of young people that fight every day to tell their story, I’m so, so humbled to have this opportunity.”
It didn’t start well. The Bulls were 2-11 to start last season and 7-16 by mid-February as injuries limited their roster to seven players. But UB pulled together to win five of its last nine to finish 12-20 overall and 8-8 in the MAC.
“I knew that something special was in the air, but I knew we needed an extra push,” Legette-Jack said.
It came in the form of Rickan, the Kenmore West product who returned home after playing four years of soccer at Syracuse University.
“What she does in that locker room cannot be matched so we got blessed with an extra body late in the summer,” Legette-Jack said. “Jenna Rickan made a major difference. She didn’t play a lot of minutes but she made a huge impact on our team. You don’t win on the court, you don’t win with X’s and O’s, you win in the locker room.”
It also helps when you play good defense – the Bulls forced 27 turnovers that converted into 26 points – and some talent on the roster like Kristen Sharkey, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals against the Golden Flashes (7-22, 4-14). Mackenzie Loesing finished with 16 points and Alexus Malone 11 points and three assists.
The team will play an opponent to be determined at noon Thursday at noon at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“It’s exciting and these young ladies are going to be ready no matter what,” Legette-Jack said. “We’re going to prepare them to not just go out there but to go out there to earn the right to be noticed.”