There is no clear definition of the term “overcoming adversity.”
Don’t tell K-State women’s basketball that, however, because the last fours have been all about overcoming adversity. Just ask the team’s three seniors, who have not only experienced the highs and lows of the program, but have also been instrumental in this year’s turnaround season.
“While this team had a lot of players that shared the leadership, they (the seniors) provided the appropriate leadership, I think on the floor and in the locker room,” head coach Jeff Mittie said Sunday after K-State’s 67-48 loss to Missouri.
When Heidi Brown, Haley Texada and Ashia Woods first arrived in Manhattan, the program was coming off of another NCAA Tournament berth. The three helped the program earn another bid during their freshman campaign, though it would be their only chance at the NCAA Tournament.
For the next three seasons, Brown, Texada and Woods endured an odyssey of highs and lows, and have since helped restore toughness and resiliency to a once Big 12 powerhouse.
The trio first faced adversity in January 2013 — their sophomore season — when Woods went down with a ruptured Achilles, an injury that ended her season early.
While Woods was on the mend, Brown and Texada stepped up and did their part in helping the Wildcats to another postseason bid with the WNIT.
However, things then seemed to hit rock bottom — and fast.
Woods returned from her injury, but the 2013-14 campaign was anything but smooth sailing. Just 15 games into the season, Texada was sidelined for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in her leg. As a result, the Wildcats’ record took a big hit, as they endured their first losing season in four years (11-19).
The season was a disappointment, capped off with a three-point loss to in-state rival Kansas in the Big 12 Women’s Tournament. The loss sent K-State into the offseason without a postseason appearance and without a head coach. Shortly after the season ended, Athletics Director John Currie relieved Deb Patterson of her head coach duties with the women’s basketball team.
With the program trending downward for the first time in several years, the trio faced a decision: opt out of the program and finish their careers elsewhere amid uncertainties of a new coach, or stick it out with whoever was next in line.
As the story goes, they chose the latter.
Soon after the end of the season, K-State Athletics hired its ninth women’s head coach in school history: Jeff Mittie.
Other than high energy and intensity, Mittie brought something to the program that became K-State’s one-word motto for the 2014-15 season: poise.
“‘Poise’ was literally the word of the year,” Texada said. “That’s something Coach Mittie and his staff said the first day we practiced – you know, just have poise. That was going to be the word. And over time, now that I say it, it’s night and day as to how much we do have it. It’s funny to see how much you grow in a year and a lot changes.”
The Wildcats needed that poise and resiliency this season, especially from Brown, Texada and Woods once Big 12 play rolled around.
After a 12-1 nonconference schedule, the Wildcats hit a series of speed bumps in conference action. By the end of the season, though, K-State was peaking and challenging each foe, including top-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 Women’s Tournament.
Woods said she credits that turnaround to urgency — urgency from playing in her last season in a K-State uniform.
“Yes, there is a little more urgency knowing that it is coming to an end,” Woods said. “We are playing with more energy and more passion. Another thing is we have a little more experience to lead our team and that plays a role on how well we do on the court.”
If there was one game that defined this senior class, it was K-State’s regular-season finale against West Virginia on March 3. Down 13 points in the second half, Texada and Woods sparked a comeback that gave the Wildcats a 59-55 victory. In the win, Texada scored 22 points.
“It was awesome,” Texada said after that game. “I enjoyed every second of it, no matter how tired I was at one point. The girls really did fight hard and they knew how much it meant. They just went harder because of that. It was awesome.”
Although the three seniors’ careers ended Sunday in a WNIT second-round loss to Missouri, Woods said unity and strength will bind them long after their time at K-State is over.
“Those are my girls for life,” Woods said. “We’ve been together since day one; not all seniors have come in together at the same time. We went through our Coach Patterson struggle and we bonded and have had great memories. That’s one thing that we’ll take, (that is), the journey with each other.”