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Rob On the Women's Basketball Banquet

It was a bit of a bittersweet evening in Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight,
as the annual awards banquet honored the season and the remarkable senior
class. There was a new and welcome addition to the proceedings this year,
as there was a reception 45 minutes before the actual dinner, allowing
fans, players and coaches to mingle. The hardware the team and players
won this year was on display, including Alana Beard's Wade Trophy, Wooden
Award, and gigantic AP Player of the Year award. On the stage, banners
for the ACC Title, #1 ranking and Alana's #20 jersey were displayed.

Basketball announcer Beth Mowins (one of the best in the biz) was
the emcee and did a fine job. She reviewed the season's highlights, with
the win over UConn in Hartford getting big cheers. Coach G followed her,
showing off her new, short coif ("Gone but not forgotten" was her comment
on her new hairdo). She thanked her coaching staff, SID Lindy Brown (whom
she called the best in the country), trainer Joe Angus, her "left and
right hands" Missy Anderson and Bobby Sorrell, the team doctors and
several others, along with her coaching staff. She noted that Georgia
Schweitzer in particular really gave it her all, often playing with the
men's practice squad against the team. In fact, she tore her meniscus in
practice late in the year and was in the recovery room with Brittany
Hunter the same day she had a procedure on her own knee; the duo will be
rehabbing together. Most poignantly, Gail talked about an email she
received from her mother the day after the loss to Minnesota, which
happened to be her parents' 47th wedding anniversary. The email
emphasized that each year together was a chance to reflect not only on the
positives but the rough times spent in a relationship, and how sticking
out those difficulties was a sign of courage and commitment. Gail went on
to say that the time spent together, both laughing and crying, were gifts
given to one another that would always be remembered.

Assistant coach (and apparent stand-up comedian) Gale Valley was next
up, handing out three awards. The first award was Practice Player of the
Year, a cumulative talley of individual practice player of the day awards,
given to the player who had the most tips, deflections, hustle plays, etc
in a given practice. Not surprisingly, Alana Beard won it for the fourth
year in a row; at this point, it should be renamed the Alana Beard
Practice Player of the Year Award. Gale's speech beforehand was very
amusing; she talked about how Alana really wasn't very good before she got
here and took her only as a favor, but that if she worked really hard she
might get into a game. The same line was given about Iciss Tillis, who
won the free throw percentage award. Of course, LaVonda couldn't resist
telling the story about Iciss wearing Jess' unitard from her Australian
national team to class one day, especially the bit about the bodysuit
meant for a 5-10 player was stretched out over Iciss' 6-5 frame. Of
course, noting Iciss' expertise in fashion, she scolded her for wearing a
green & yellow outfit ("you know those aren't your colors") and her white
4" heels ("wearing white after Labor Day? For shame!"). Best Offensive
Player was voted on by the players, and as GV noted by the array of
awards in front of them on the stage, there was no doubt that it was
going to Alana Beard.

LaVonda Wagner gave out the next set of awards. Her first was Best
Rebounder, and that honor went to Iciss Tillis for the third straight
year. Her rebounding has always been overlooked throughout her career,
but she wound up #2 in Duke history in total rebounds and #5 in rebounding
average. Not bad for a player who wasn't a pure center. The next award
was Most Improved Player, and there was no doubt that Mistie Bass earned
this with her hard work last summer and improved play across the board (and
boards) all season long. Interestingly, Best Defensive Player went to
Lindsey Harding's hard-nosed work on the ball rather than the usual
winner, Beard. Lindsey definitely deserved the nod, as her defense was an
unsung but important part of the team's success this year.

Georgia Schweitzer was next and praised the seniors, with whom she
played for a season. Georgia noted how impressed she was with them both
as players and people, talking about how much they had matured and grown.
Her first award was Heart & Hustle, and it went once again to Vicki
Krapohl. Georgia pointed out a particular play against UNC where Vicki
flew out of bounds to save the ball on a crucial possession, and it wound
up firing up the team. The team Academic award had its own repeat winner
in the form of Caitlin Howe, a hard worker on and off the court. Last was
a new award, the Community Award, given to the player who has done the
most work off the court and in the community. Lindsey Harding got the nod
here for her work with the G-WIS group and Special Olympics.

Next came the senior speeches. The four seniors came up en masse, and
the initial plan was that each senior would first thank their parents and
family, and then make individual remarks. Of course, when it got to
Kalita Marsh, the emotional senior started speaking at length and from the
heart about the coaches, the managers and others. Alana came back and
said that their initial plan went a little askew but that she didn't want
to leave out her teammates and coaches. She also got more than a little
misty as she told her teammates that they would always be in her heart and
that it was difficult to imagine not seeing them every day. Beard also
spoke of her admiration for Georgia Schweitzer, thanking her for the
sacrifices she made as a senior for her freshman class ("We all wanted to
come in and shoot and score and not pass the ball to Georgia!"). And of
course, the tears really started to flow when she talked about Coach G,
who convinced her to come to Duke four years ago when it wasn't exactly
Alana's most fervent desire. Iciss was her usual eloquent self, talking
about her mom and how weird it would be not to walk into Cameron every day
for practice and seeing her teammates who had become her close friends.
Vicki made sure to praise her parents, and noted that her mom was having
a harder time than she was with the end of her basketball career, since
she had been coming to her games for so many years and travelled so many
miles to do so. She noted that her friend and former teammate Michele
Matyasovsky was in attendance and told a funny story about her influence.
Vicki said that Mattie got her to say "dude" since she said it all the
time, but that her new word from hanging out in Colorado was "solid", and
that she'd be saying that all the time now. The seniors talked about how
the coaching staff never receives enough credit, so they gave them gifts
of black and white photos of the team...the guards to GV and Schweitz,
the posts to LaVonda, and the whole team to Coach G.

Beth Mowins came up to introduce Jess Foley, but not before quipping to
the seniors, "Dude, those were some solid speeches!" Jess, flanked by
Monique Currie and Lindsey Harding, as there to present some special gifts
to the seniors, but not before noting that "it was a bodysuit, not a
unitard", and "I'm a full 6-foot, not 5-10!". Jess also good-naturedly
ribbed the seniors about various events from the season, like Alana
getting beaten by Ivory Latta in the ACC Tournament. The seniors were
given special photo books as a gift.

After that came the video highlights, with assorted behind-the-back
passes from Alana and Jess Foley's game-winning shot in Hartford drawing
the biggest cheers. After that, Mowins joked "Well, now we're done with
the first part half of the program", apropos since the whole event was now
running over three and a half hours. Of note is that this really was a
final farewell for Alana; she'll be leaving town next week (her academics
are pretty much wrapped up right as classes end next Tuesday) to begin her
WNBA career. She has training camp, special sessions with the WNBA on all
sorts of topics and other obligations ahead of her. Iciss won't be far
behind her. Coach G noted earlier in the program that she had sent her
seniors quotes when they were just coming in as frosh, and her favorite
was one that encouraged them not to travel where the trail leads, but to
go where there is no trail and create your own path for others to follow.
This group of young women did that like no senior class before them,
leaving a remarkable legacy and memories that will last for many a year in
Cameron's rafters.