A quarter century after a crushing defeat that ended her college career, Shelley Sheetz has yet to watch that final game.
The former Colorado women’s basketball great knows exactly where the VHS tape of that game is located, though.
“It’s in my storage unit in Colorado,” said Sheetz, now an assistant coach of Loyola University Maryland. “I have game tapes galore and it’s in there. I don’t know why I haven’t watched it.”
This weekend, that game, an 82-79 loss to Georgia in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament on March 25, 1995, is sure to come up in conversation, but it certainly won’t be the dominating topic when Sheetz and the rest of the 1994-95 Buffaloes gather for a reunion in Boulder.
The reunion will include the team being honored during the current team’s two games, Friday against California and Sunday against Stanford.
“We will probably talk about that Georgia game for all of maybe five minutes,” said Sheetz, who was a senior point guard and first-team All-American that year. “The rest of the time it is going to be a nice ab workout, because our guts are going to be hurting. We’re going to be laughing and telling stories and joshing with each other, making fun of each other and just pulling out stories that only we would know.”
CU women’s basketball had a remarkable run of success during coach Ceal Barry’s 22-year tenure (1983-2005), including four conference titles, 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Elite Eight.
It was that 1994-95 team that stands out, though. The Buffs won a program-record 30 games that year, finishing 30-3. That included a 25-game win streak and a 14-0 mark in the Big Eight.
The season ended with that loss to Georgia, which came after CU held a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to play.
“That game does sting, I’m not going to lie; 25 years later, it does sting,” said Sheetz, who played that game, held in Des Moines, Iowa, near her hometown of Cedar Rapids.
CU had lost to national power Tennessee, 78-72, in Boulder on Dec. 17, and would have had another shot at the Volunteers in the Final Four.
“We knew that if we got another chance at that we were going to win,” Sheetz said.
The final would have been against Connecticut, which won the first of its 11 titles that season and Sheetz said “we knew that we had the front line to match them.”
While Sheetz hasn’t watched the Georgia game, she does have vivid memories of the game, including her missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation and picking up her fourth foul during Georgia’s late run.
“I feel like I had a lot to do with it, the momentum changing,” she said. “I think that’s the thing that stings the most is we just weren’t able to finish it, and we had the squad.”
It was a squad that not only had Sheetz, but a load of talent in the frontcourt.
Isabelle Fijalkowski, a 6-foot-5 center from France, averaged 16.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in her only season at CU. Erin Scholz and Raegan Scott also dominated up front, while guards De Celle Thomas and Jen Terry started along with Sheetz as guards.
“We went into that year thinking we could go to the Final Four,” Barry said. “We legitimately had the depth, the ball handling and the post play.”
Losing Terry to a knee injury during the Big Eight tournament proved devastating, however. Terry was an intelligent and calm player and without her, Georgia’s full-court press in the final minutes was tough for the Buffs to handle.
“We all thought we had a shot at going to the Final Four,” Barry said. “I hate to use that injury as an excuse, but I think collectively, the whole program thought that really, it just hurt us.”
The sting has mostly worn off by now, though, and Barry expects to hear some “horror” stories about what the players went through years ago.
“They remember practices; they remember the work,” Barry said. “Any time former players get together, they love to embellish how hard it was, so we all laugh. If they had to be up at 6 a.m., they would say it was 4 a.m.; if they had to run three miles, they would say it’s seven.”
They might embellish, but Barry was a tough coach who demanded a lot of her players – and they often delivered.
“She saw more potential in us than we saw in our own selves,” said Sheetz, now in her 18th year of coaching. “I absolutely, 100 percent loved playing for coach Barry. She challenged me in ways that I didn’t necessarily always agree with, but she challenged me and she made me the player I was. She’s definitely made me the coach I am.”
Sheetz said it was a team in which every player knew their role and “played their role to their fullest ability.”
“It wasn’t about one person at all; it was about our team,” Sheetz said. “I’m so proud of that.”
Because it was a team, the focus won’t be on wins or losses when they get together. Barry and Sheetz have stayed in contact and get together often, but neither of them has seen Fijalkowski in 25 years and it’s been that long since they’ve seen some of the others on the team.
“For the majority of that team, it’s been 25 years since I’ve seen all those guys,” said Sheetz, who will only be on hand Sunday because of her team’s schedule. “I’m very excited. We follow each other real close on Facebook, so we do know what everybody is doing and how everybody has been, but just to be in the same place and see each other, it’s going to be a great weekend.”
Barry said it will not only be exciting to see her former players and assistant coaches, but it’s a thrill to see what all of them have accomplished, whether as coaches, educators, authors or success in other professional vocations.
“What struck me is what they’re all doing right now,” Barry said. “I think as a former coach, a coach of all these former players, you’re really, really excited, especially for women coming through and what they’ve done to take leadership roles and what they’re doing (in their lives). I’m very, very proud of them.”