BLOOMINGTON — On the most significant day in her tenure as Indiana’s head women’s basketball coach — and one of the most significant in the program’s history — Teri Moren experienced a range of emotions.
There was some frustration, as her Hoosiers didn’t play their best basketball in the first half against Purdue and felt the officials missed some calls. There was some sadness, in honoring seniors Alyssa Geary and — particularly — Grace Berger, knowing the latter’s stellar IU career is winding down.
But that was soon washed away by overwhelming joy and pride. Indiana ran away with an 83-60 win on Sunday, which clinched a share of the program’s first Big Ten title since 1983.
As the celebrations swept over the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, and the first sellout crowd in program history buzzed with jubilation, Moren was pulled in a thousand directions. She exchanged hugs with her players and staff, family members, and others. She took photos with many of those same people. She was pulled away for a TV interview.
But amidst the chaos, as her players started to climb the ladder to cut down the net, she found a moment of peace with associate head coach Glenn Box. The pair, who have worked together for seven of Moren’s nine seasons in Bloomington, stood in the back of the pack, near the 3-point line. They looked on, like proud parents, as the team celebrated.
Times like these are rare. It takes years of work to reach that point, and it lasts for maybe an hour, if that. So Moren, if only for a fleeting moment, soaked it all in.
And as she reflected on those scenes, she welled up with more emotion.
“The work that it takes to accomplish something like this, it’s not easy,” said Moren, fighting off tears. “I think that this group has a belief, too, that I really appreciate. I think one of the greatest gifts you can give somebody is belief. This group has continued to believe, not only in this staff, but they believe in each other. They have tremendous chemistry on and off the floor, which has been so cool to be a part of and so cool to watch. So just one of those moments where you sit back and go, ‘That’s what it’s supposed to look like.'”
Moren and her staff have long believed a day like this was possible. But few others outside of Cook Hall shared that same belief.
It took years of failures to make this happen. Years of coming up short. But it was years of planting the seeds to grow a successful and sustainable program.
A day like this for Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes wouldn’t have happened without Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill. Sydney Parrish and Chloe Moore-McNeil wouldn’t be here if not for Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise. The list could go on and on.
Patberg, though, was one of the few from those trailblazers who could witness this day in person. As IU’s team and recruitment coordinator, she’s been along for the ride all season. She began her IU career in 2018, while still ineligible after transferring from Notre Dame, when IU earned a WNIT Championship.
She graduated as the winningest player in program history, though she was quickly overtaken by Berger this season. Patberg led the Hoosiers to three NCAA Tournaments — the only year her team didn’t get there was in 2020, when the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those IU teams made runs to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, but couldn’t get over the line for a Big Ten title or Final Four.
But Patberg was part of the group who laid the foundation for what Indiana women’s basketball has evolved into. And so when it was her turn to climb the ladder and cut off a piece of the net on Sunday, she, too, cried tears of joy. The current players chanted her name and jumped around excitedly, in pure happiness for Patberg to get that moment.
“She’s such a big part of this. You could tell by the reaction of our players, when she went up there and cut down the net, just how important and special she’s been for our program,” Moren said. “Ali is an emotional kid, she’s a genuine kid, and she is so, so happy — not just for our staff, but also for those players, and for this program. She loves Indiana.”
This Indiana team earned these celebrations. They’ve been one of the best teams in the country all season, with a 26-1 overall record, nine wins over ranked opponents, a top-five scoring margin, and a current 14-game winning streak.
This Big Ten championship could be just the first celebration of more to come, for even bigger things down the road. This squad’s laser-focused mentality, and its ability to stay grounded through these high moments and quickly move on to the next thing, have been some of its defining traits. Berger said she was so focused on Sunday’s game that when she checked out, she didn’t realize the team was about to clinch the title.
And while the Hoosiers will be thinking about next Sunday’s game at Iowa by Monday morning, this is a day worth savoring. IU fans should relish these moments. The players, staff, and others inside the program can store these memories away and cherish them at a more appropriate time.
This era of Indiana women’s basketball has, at long last, achieved something tangible. The Hoosiers lifted the WNIT trophy five years ago, but this is different. They received hats and shirts for reaching the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, as well, but this, too, is different. The 2023 Indiana Hoosiers will now be immortalized at Assembly Hall on the Women’s Big Ten Champions banner.
No matter what happens during the postseason, this achievement, in of itself, is special.
This program has experienced many memorable moments in Bloomington over the past few years. They’re starting to occur with increasing frequency.
But the scenes inside Assembly Hall on Sunday, February 19, 2023 rank among the most momentous the building has ever seen. It’s a day that anyone who was inside the arena, and many more who were watching from afar, will never forget.
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