Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not just another game

About a week ago I suggested to my boss that it would be a smart move to send me to the Quinnipiac/Hartford women's basketball game on the first day I was back from vacation.

Quinnipiac was off to a 7-0 start, its best since becoming a Division I program and the Bobcats would be tested by a Hartford team perennially tough to beat at home. Then there was a chance to catch up with Hartford head coach Jen Rizzotti as well as Guilford native Amber Bepko leading into the Dec. 22 game against UConn.

However, when I sat down at my seat to start writing the game story following Hartford's 67-61 victory, basketball was the furthest thing from my mind. Just two days removed from the horrendous tragedy in Newtown, it seemed rather unimportant to discuss Hartford's 12-0 run in the first half or string of 15 straight points scored by Hartford in the second half. Normally I would have likely focused my story around the pivotal stretch when a Daphne Elliott steal and ensuing layup by Ruthanne Doherty helped Hartford hold off Quinnipiac's stirring comeback effort.

When I returned to my seat on press row after the press conferences, there were four kids likely about 4 or 5 years old wearing Hartford jerseys with Rizzotti's name and No. 21 on the back rambling up and down the court. Hartford SID Dan Ruede suggested that I use a conference room if things got too noisy to work. Somehow it was soothing to my soul to watch the utter joy of the young kids racing up and down the court without a care in the world. Unlike the rest of the state, they were blissfully unaware of the horrific events of Friday morning when 20 kids only a couple years older than them were shot down by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Suddenly it dawned on me that there would be no need for the play by play I had already typed and knew I had to make the focus of the gamer on the attempts to move forward following an event that will never be forgotten in this state.

Before the game there were a few moments of silence in honor of the victims and the Hartford players wore a black patch in honor of those who lose their lives. Somehow seeing those four kids having the time of their lives especially after Hartford freshmen Christie Michals and Katelyn Skinner joined them to toss mini footballs allowed the emotions of the day to come full circle.

"It was really emotional, we had a talk about it at the beginning of the game in the locker room and it hits home," said Hartford's Amber Bepko, a sophomore from Guilford who had 11 points in the win. "I am from Connecticut and it is so close that you can't imagine what people are going through. Being a team from Connecticut to show our support and show that we do care and that it is not in our minds. It is in our minds and we have so much respect for everybody out there and our prayers are with them."

I was told after the game that the wearing of the black patches was something the players chose to do rather than it being part of the plan to honor those slain in Newtown.

Visiting Quinnipiac was also dealing with a flood of emotions playing for the first time since the tragic event.

"As a mother of three it is tough and I was a little cloudy but once that ball goes up ...," Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said "This game was a great distraction today. We had a great crowd and it was a great day to celebrate two great programs in the state, watching them slug it out this early in the season. It was a great distraction but words just can't express the sorrow and sadness that everybody has had to deal with and will continue to deal with."

Like so many others, Quinnipiac senior guard Felicia Barron (who led the Bobcats with 16 points in Sunday's loss) could not believe the brutality at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"It was tough," Barron said. I found out on the news. "It was sad to see that a person could kill innocent (children). We came out to play for them and although we lost, we gave it our all."

Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti has a long relationship with Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko dating back to her days playing for the ABL's New England Blizzard. However, Rizzotti made it clear following the game that if she works for Sienko it will be as an announcer on Sun games on CPTV Sports and not as the new coach for the WNBA franchise.

"I have expressed to them  before this that I am not interested in coaching in the WNBA," Rizzotti said. "I didn't turn any job down, it was never offered to me. I am friends with Chris Sienko so conversations have come up in the past of whether I would coach in the WNBA for no other reason than just curiosity. I had made it clear that it was not in my immediate future. I never interviewed for the job and it was not an option for me and he knew that."

The rumored move of Quinnipiac leaving the Northeast Conference to join the MAAC became official on Saturday. For Fabbri, who played in the MAAC while at Fairfield, it will be a bit of a homecoming.

"I am looking forward to going back to the MAAC," Fabbri said. "That is where I originally started. I had a lot of success when I was there and hopefully we can repeat that success. I haven't really fully surrounded and put my brain around it because you are in the midst of a season and you are trying to win these games but it will be exciting to have a chance to develop a rivalry with Fairfield University. I think that is going to be good for the state of Connecticut."

There are limited tickets for Saturday's UConn/Hartford game at Chase Arena. The tickets yet to be sold are under each basket and go for $10. With the game part of a doubleheader as the Hartford men's team hosts Marist, expect the final tickets to go fast.


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