The good teams usually have a dominant superstar or a dynamic duo, but when you have a “fab five,” well, the you have something special.
February 26, 2006, was when it all clicked for five juniors on the Denison women’s basketball team. a 68-54 victory in the conference tournament championship over Kenyon legitimized a dream season for a young, passionate squad. the team’s only senior had gone down with an injury, and it was the five juniors who took the court as starters, and young leaders, in that championship game. “That was the defining moment for us,” said marisa hard ’07. “The five of us looked at each other and said, we can actually accomplish a lot. and we still have one more year.”
That one more year translated into a season for the ages, as hard and classmates Kristen Sheffield, Lauren Vashaw, Tammy Hoch, and Caitlin Krupka led the Big Red to a 25-5 campaign, setting a new Denison record for single-season wins. they won their third consecutive conference tournament and went on to dominate defending national champion hope in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament before bowing out to eventual champion Depauw. Over four years, the five seniors have compiled a record of 85-30.
“I really liked the class when i recruited them,” said head coach sara lee. “I thought they would make us competitive, but I didn’t think they’d be the team they were over the past four years.”
Lee stresses the word “team” whenever she mentions the five individuals. they are the first to tell you just how different they are on and off the court, but their differences have actually brought them together. “I think our personalities on the court translate really well off the court,” said Hard.
Sheffield has been a four-year superstar, and her legacy as an all-time great has been cemented into the annals of Denison basketball history. The school record holder in blocks, rebounds, free throws made, free throws attempted, and minutes played has a quiet presence about her both on and off the hardwood. “She is exactly like she is on the court when she’s off it,” remarked Krupka. “She’s quiet and then out of nowhere she scores 20 points.”
Sheffield was a sure bet to have a four-year impact on the basketball court, but the same could not be said for Hoch and for Krupka. Both players rode the pine their freshman year, wondering when they would get the chance to go out and compete with sheffield, Hard, and Vashaw.
“I remember (tammy) sitting in my office at the end of freshman year,” lee reflected. “She asked, ‘Hey, do I have a future here in basketball?’ I remember saying to her, ‘We have a feeling you are going to be really good.’” sure enough, by the end of her senior season, Hoch was a two-time conference tournament first-team honoree.
Krupka was the team’s vocal leader and top long-range shooter, scoring a game-high 19 in the tournament victory over Hope. Hard was the one “to encourage everyone,” according to sheffield. Krupka calls her “the moral supporter, both on and off the court.” one thing that could not be denied was the on-court intangibles Hard brought to every game.
Vashaw, sheffield says, stood out for her defense. “on the court she knows her role is defense and she’s so determined,” added Krupka. As a testament to her toughness, Vashaw led the team in charges taken year in and year out.
Sheffield may have received much of the ink and the accolades, but none of them cared who scored the points, as long as they collectively outscored their opponent. In typical fashion, she preferred to dwell on her team’s accomplishments rather than her individual accolades. “It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s what our team accomplished that is more important.”
Those accomplishments are many, and lee has said on numerous occasions that this year’s squad was the greatest she has coached in her 19 years with the Big red. and that’s why, when the Big red take the court next season in pursuit of their fourth straight conference tournament crown, the presence of Hard, sheffield, Vashaw, Hoch and Krupka will be sorely missed.