A Fond Farewell to a Fab Four
Feb. 26, 2012
CHICAGO - Keisha Hampton, Maureen Mulchrone and Taylor Pikes never imagined a Senior Night where they would be watching and cheering instead of playing their hearts out one last time at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
Along with classmate Deanna Ortiz, they are being honored at a postgame ceremony Monday night after DePaul's BIG EAST Conference showdown against Cincinnati.
And yet, despite this series of unfortunate events, Hampton, Mulchrone and Pikes will carry with them all the good times they shared onto the next stage of their journey.
"I'm going to miss playing with them, and I know it's never going to be the same again," said Hampton, an honorable mention All-American last season and a preseason All-American going into 2011-12. "We won a tournament in Las Vegas two years ago, beating No. 6 Florida State for the title.
"That night was so much fun. We rode the roller coaster at our hotel, New York, New York and celebrated. Another great memory is making the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 for the second time in school history."
What will be running through Pikes' mind as she stands alongside her fellow seniors on Monday?
"Beating Notre Dame last year on Senior Night," she said. "Nobody expected us to win. Keisha had fouled out after scoring 17 points. But Felicia Chester scored the winning basket with less than five seconds left."
Ortiz quickly interjected: "It was Taylor who made the pass. It was her assist for the layup that won the game for us. And our fans stormed the court right after the final buzzer. It was the best of all nights to beat Notre Dame."
Pikes looked over at her three classmates.
"I'm going to miss getting up in the morning and getting to be a student-athlete instead of getting up and having to go to work," said Pikes, who plans to become a policewoman. "I'm going into the real world now."
Ortiz recounted another jubilant moment.
"My favorite memory is beating Stanford at home when they were the No. 2 team in the nation," said the senior guard. "I'll always remember how we got to hang out as a team afterwards. That was one of the best feelings while I was at DePaul."
Mulchrone spoke about some of the confidential stuff shared only by the players.
"Practices can get really hard, and I'll always remember how we would make little inside jokes to each other to keep us going" Mulchrone said. "There were also those talks we'd have after practice---locker room conversation or kitchen conversation.
"I'm going to miss my teammates the most. It's so easy having them around and having someone to go out with or just to hang out. After we leave, we'll have to call each other and make appointments.
"I never thought I could go to a university that is so welcoming. At other schools, you can't say hi to the athletic director every day. You can't make an appointment with a professor with 20 minutes notice. It's like a community here."
The three sidelined seniors found solace and support from one another. Each experienced a low point during their hiatus.
"I tried to play during our practice for the Georgetown game in early January," Hampton said. "The knee didn't feel right. I was tired of the pain and the injury, so I walked off the court.
"It's a tough place when that happens. Why is this happening to me?"
Mulchrone missed the Hawaii tournament, and her last game---like Hampton---was against Northern Illinois.
"I've got a herniated disc in my back," Mulchrone said. "At one point, the doctor said I could come back and it was a matter of how much pain I could tolerate.
"You want to play so badly, but you realize you're not much of an asset. You feel like you might drag the team down.
"After the second epidural, I wasn't feeling any relief and I just started to cry. It would have been a lot worse if I was the only one injured. It was nice to have other people we could talk to about our injuries."
In the beginning, Pikes was the only one hurting.
"It's very frustrating," Pikes said. "I was hoping to come back in September, and that got pushed back. As the season wore on, others on the team became injured.
"Each time my return date got pushed back, it got harder to take. When I had another arthroscopic surgery in October, I knew then it was really over.
"You just have to keep your head up. I've learned to deal with it, and I know it will someday get better."
It makes you wonder what might have been...
"What might have happened if all of us were healthy comes across my mind every day," Hampton said. Pikes and Hampton agreed that if everyone had been healthy this season, DePaul would have been a Top 10 team.
"Our whole season would have been so different," Ortiz said. "I mean, Taylor was the Sixth Man of the Year and Keisha an All-American. Mo had so much experience.
"It's really hard to see them hurt. I've been playing with Taylor since our AAU days in high school. I've played with Keisha and Mo all four years. All of us were so excited about our senior year.
"I miss them being on the court. But we still have fun because you can't be depressed all the time. They have done a really good job of staying positive and being part of the team."
Ortiz is going to try out for the Puerto Rican Olympic team and then pursue a career in law.
"Yeah, Taylor is going to arrest the criminals and I'll either prosecute them or defend them," Ortiz said with a laugh. Mulchrone is an education major who will begin student teaching in the fall. Hampton is hopeful that a return to full health will land her a spot in the WNBA.
"If not, I'm thinking about playing in Europe for a season and then trying to make the league next year," Hampton said.
The final countdown has begun.
"It will probably hit me on Saturday night," Ortiz said. "My God, this is the last time we'll ever be on the McGrath-Phillips Arena court."
"It hit me when I stopped playing," Hampton said. "I will never get a chance to wear the DePaul uniform again.
"It's going to be hard. I know my feelings will come up and in my speech I'll get emotional. It's going to be hard to say my goodbyes."
Ortiz glanced over at Hampton.
"I know there will be a few tears in my eyes," she said. "I'll try to crack a few jokes and have some laughs in the middle of it."
And, what about Pikes and Mulchrone?
"I'll be thinking that I'll never get a chance to play with Keisha, Mo and Deanna again," Pikes said.
"I get really nervous talking in front of people," Mulchrone said. "We'll be teary-eyed."
As the resident attorney-to-be, Ortiz gets to make the closing statement.
"I'd like to thank Jeanne," Ortiz said about DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. "She has been an exceptional role model for us, how strong she is as an AD and how understanding she is with us.
"She played the game and knows what it's all about. Jeanne has worked really hard to give us so many opportunities and privileges."