With any successful team, the leadership at the top is paramount and essential. So when Linda Lappe came back to her alma mater in 2010 to assume the head coaching position, she had a definitive vision: establish an expectation of winning on a nightly basis regardless of opponent and, most importantly, take the Buffaloes back to past laurels.
“(I wanted) to get the expectation back of knowing and expecting to beat a top 10 or a top 25 team," Lappe said in an interview with Swish Appeal. "Just for people to start talking about Colorado women’s basketball again, it’s been probably since 2003 since that’s happened -- that part feels really good. And I’m really happy and proud of our players because they work so hard.
“And what (our staff) really did is we raised the level of expectation. Also, because we knew where Colorado basketball should be, we knew where it was capable of being.
Lappe -- a former two-time captain when she played for the Buffaloes -- was determined to build Colorado back to the pinnacle of success that she was accustomed to as a player. And with their 70-66 victory on Friday, they took a huge step in that direction.
“I have a lot of pride for Colorado, because I did play here,” said Lappe. “And it means a lot to me to help put Colorado back on the map with women’s basketball. There was a long time where people feared coming into the Events Center to play. We were consistently in the NCAA tournament.”
Every good coach looks for a certain player to be an extension of themselves, a player willing to lead. Best case scenario for most coaches is that they would prefer that player to be their point guard. So when Lappe arrived on campus, the player that was willing to take those reigns happened to not only be the point guard, but also the Buffaloes most talented player -- Jeffery. And her imprint was all over Friday night’s game from the outset.
Jeffery -- one of the most talented guards in the country -- came out and played a performance that one would call a masterpiece: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists. But her stats only tell a small fraction of what she contributed Friday night. It was Jeffery’s poise, calm demeanor and innate ability of knowing when to lead that helped propel the Buffaloes to one their biggest victories in recent memory.
“I’ve taken on the role of being a leader on my team," Jeffery said in an interview with Swish Appeal. "I take pride of putting my team on my back and being in that position to be able to be the one my teammates look up to. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Every train needs a conductor; every team needs a floor leader, and Jeffery was the steady hand that guided the Buffaloes in such a pivotal game. Even as Louisville made a late push towards the end of the game, Jeffery remained calm
“I thought Chucky (Jeffery) did a nice job of leading us, she showed great composure throughout the game, and she got to the rim late in the game when we felt Louisville got a little bit tired," said Lappe. "She got her teammates involved so she did a lot both offensively and defensively.”
The senior from Colorado Springs has seen it all during her time at Colorado; she has been through the good times and the bad.
“Personally it’s amazing because you know I came here and we didn’t have the best of teams and we struggled," said Jeffery. "We finally got to postseason play last year and the year before that. Most of the time when we would play ranked teams (we would be like), ‘OK, we have a chance, we’re just going to play our hardest and play our heart out.' Now, we match up and we got the weapons to (compete) against (top ranked) teams."
When moments like these present themselves, a lot of teams don’t seize the opportunity; they wilt and crumble under the pressure. In so many instances, the team with the bigger name seemingly intimidates the other into believing that they could not pull off such an upset. But those feelings of doubt didn’t seep into the psyche of the Buffaloes -- as a matter of fact what really stood out in their victory over Louisville was one thing: their mindset.
Not only did they believe they could win, they expected it. For the majority of the game, they played with a fervor that resembled that conviction. From the outset Colorado’s body language spoke volumes; they literally had the disposition of “we respect you but we don’t fear you -- we believe we are the better team.”
“Every time we put on (the Colorado) uniform, we take pride in what we do and everything we do," said Jeffery. "We set expectations, some people might not think that we are supposed to beat (a) team (like Louisville), but we do.
“We expect to beat them, so when we win, its like, ‘Yeah we won’ but at the end of the day, we expected to beat them. We know what we bring and we know what we have.”
They took the fight to Louisville especially on the defensive end as they held perennial All Big East performer, Shoni Schimmel to zero first half points.
“Brittany (Wilson’s) biggest contribution was (defending) Shoni Schimmel, (to) make sure she didn’t get going,” said Lappe. “We really wanted to make sure that we never forget about her and she didn’t get any open looks. Brittany's attention to where she was at all times was huge key in our effort -- pressuring her and being able to not let her get going at any point really.
“I told Brittany after the game, we hugged, it was amazing,” said a beaming Jeffery. “At halftime we’re like, ‘She’s scoreless!’ We knew coming into the game that [Schimmel] was the key, the job that Brittany did on her was impeccable. I’ve seen Brittany play defense in games and she had zero slip-ups (Friday night).
“She stayed in her pocket, she didn’t let her (have) any easy shots. And she frustrated her; I was just so excited for Brittany. She was actually upset that (Schimmel) scored 4 points. Brittany takes pride in things like that, when Brittany sets out to do something, she takes pride in it and she goes for it.”
Jeffery and her teammates have really bought into Lappe’s vision. They have certain goals that they hope to ascertain beyond their wonderful start.
“Our goals for the season is to finish top four in our conference and getting to the (NCAA tournament) -- and make a great run in the tournament," said Jeffery. "It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the tournament. Our goal as a team is for us to be that uncommon team that people may overlook, to be the team that does all the little things right.”
And with Saturday night’s victory, Colorado sent a potent salvo to many people who were not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon: the Buffaloes are for real and aren’t satisfied just yet.