By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS - Dreams came true and visions were realized. When Texas A&M's Maroon Nation awoke Wednesday, no pinches were required. The score didn't disappear when sleep gave way to wakefulness. Texas A&M 76, Notre Dame 70 is chiseled in the NCAA record book.
As the confetti (hmmm, it was Irish-colored blue and gold) flew and the happy tears flowed, three Aggies stood out for their roles in bringing the 2011 women's national championship to College Station and the Big 12 Conference.
"It's unbelievable, this is as emotional I've ever been," said Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who held the same job at Oregon and Nebraska before becoming an Aggie. "We set this in motion eight years ago and our goal was to win a national championship. And we did it. Fantastic. Just fantastic."
One of Byrne's first hires at A&M was Gary Blair. His coaching background included successful runs at South Oak Cliff High school in Dallas, Louisiana Tech, Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas. Blair's defensive emphasis - fueled and designed by long-time assistant coach Vic Schaefer - transformed the women's program from laughable losers to hard-nosed winners.
Texas A&M had two NCAA Tournament victories before Blair arrived. The Aggies have won 13 NCAA games since the 2007 tourney.
Blair recently told the Houston Chronicle: "Bill Byrne has given me everything I need to succeed."
The Aggies reached the regional final in 2008. The national experts and observers were in agreement - Texas A&M's emphasis on defense was all well and good, but to reach the Final Four or win a national championship, Blair's team would need a scoring star, a go-to offensive threat.
She arrived in College Station two years ago. Danielle Adams, a Kansas City native who originally signed with Missouri but spent two years in junior-college, brought a unique blend of power and finesse. Adams could power her way to close-range baskets and step out to make 3-pointers. She was a bulldozer depositing clouds.
A year ago, the second-seeded Aggies lost a heart breaker in the second round to Gonzaga. Adams, who was part-time player because she lacked conditioning, missed a game-winning shot. This year as a No. 2 seed - Texas A&M was the first team in the 30 years of the NCAA Tournament to earn a second seed for the fourth consecutive year - the Aggies had their star player full time.
"Danielle has meant a lot to this program," senior Sydney Colson said. "She's gotten so many accolades ... she's such an unselfish person. She could be a real meany, decide to be arrogant, full of herself, and she's not. She's one of the most selfless players on our team. She's helped to get us where we are right now."
With 22 second-half points and 30 overall, Adams was the missing piece for an A&M national championship. Appropriately, she was named as the Final Four's most outstanding player.
"I always had the dream of winning a national championship, of holding that trophy," said Adams, who did just that as the Aggies' celebrated with their fans at a downtown hotel in the early hours of Wednesday. "When I went to junior college, it was a chance for me to work harder and get better. Texas A&M gave me the chance.
"We felt like we were the underdog, that everybody that the Stanfords, the Connecticuts, the Tennessees, one of those teams, were supposed to win this. But it's about how hard you work."
At the age of 65, Blair became the oldest coach to win a women's national title (his triumph coming the night after Connecticut's Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach to win a men's championship).
But this is hardly a long goodbye or a swan song for the ex-Marine. There might be snow on the roof but there's fire in the furnace. Blair, a future hall of famer, defeated five coaches already enshrined - Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer, Georgia's Andy Landers, Baylor's Kim Mulkey, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw - in this NCAA Tournament.
Blair is ready for more challenges.
"What I want to try to do is encourage the Stanfords, Tennessees and Connecticuts to get on our schedule, because we want to play risk/reward," Blair said. "And we're willing to do whatever it takes to play these games, because that's what is going to make us better.
"Those teams are going to be good every year, and I think Texas A&M now is at that level that we can recruit the right type of student-athletes."
Next season, the Aggies must replace Adams and Colson, the team's emotional leader. Sydney Carter, Tyra "Miss Big Shot" White and Adaora Elonu are returning starters.
Kelsey Bone, a 6-foot-4 post, sat out this season to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements. She was the Southeastern Conference newcomer of the year at South Carolina in 2009-10.
"Kelsey (was) the second best player in the country coming out of high school next to (Baylor All-American) Brittney Griner," Blair said. "They played against each other for four years. She'll give us that presence inside and also give us the height, whereas Danielle (Adams) had to do it at 6-1."
The incoming freshmen class was rated among the top 10 in the nation - 6-7 center Rachel Mitchell from Atascocita High School in Houston, 5-10 guard Tori Scott from Marrero, La., and 5-8 guard Alexia Standish from Colleyville Heritage.
"I think we'll have a chance to be right there again next season," Schaefer told the San Antonio Express-News.
Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit in the last six minutes to defeat top-seeded Stanford in Sunday's semifinal and withstood the storm of Notre Dame's 20-4 run that put the Aggies in a seven-point hole early in the second half.
The players all say that their practices, the 6 a.m. workouts, are all tougher than the games. That resolve and work ethic will need to be maintained.
"I'll do my best to carry on and do what our seniors did, their leadership," said Carter, whose passion for the game is twice the size of her 5-6 frame. "This was great to do this with the seniors. I'm glad we could do it as a team."
Senior MaryAnn Baker, who overcame injuries throughout her career to become a key reserve this season, sees no quit in the Texas A&M coach or his program.
"He loves what he does, and he just signed a contract extension, so he's not going anywhere anytime soon," Baker said of Blair.
Time to start dream weaving another vision quest.