March 19, 2004
BERKELEY, Calif. - Cal women's basketball coach Caren Horstmeyer guided the Golden Bears through a difficult 2003-04 season and earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. In the first of two installments, she talks about the season and the passing of Alisa Lewis.
Q) In what ways did your team improve the most during the season?
"The commitment, the dedication, the strength and conditioning work, the confidence that they developed through the summer and early fall helped us be more successful early on in the year. We started to gain some confidence and felt like we were a good team. We had made some strides. We were a much-improved team from a year before."
Q) How effective was the change to the triangle offense for your team this year?
"We're excited. We love it. I think our players enjoyed it. There was a lot of excitement putting in the new offense. They bought into it right away. While we had that excitement, we felt we were very good at it. After being scouted a little bit, we started to get a little bit stagnant. By the end of the year, we had put in a couple of quick hitters that really helped us. Then we went back to the triangle. So, we could run a quick hitter, go back to the triangle for awhile, run another quick hitter, and it just threw the defense off enough, and gave our players enough excitement. I thought it really helped us. The triangle was a great addition to our program and will be a part of our tradition."
Q) Was this one of the most challenging seasons for you as a coach given the sudden death of Alisa Lewis?
"It was one of the most emotional seasons for myself and my staff. It was one of the more challenging because it's not something most coaches will ever deal with. The passing away of a player is very taxing emotionally. As players, you want to go out and play hard for her. But, it doesn't always happen that way. As coaches, you want to get your team back on track so that you can help them in the best way to play as hard as they can and to be successful for Alisa. You also had players that were at different stages of the grief process at different times during the year. At the same time while it was one of the most challenging seasons, it became an extremely rewarding season because we ended successfully at the end of the year, winning three of our last five games. That was a positive thing and something we can build on for the future.
"This is a team that this team is always going to remember. We're always going to remember these people. We had great team chemistry. We're going to remember the adversity and Alisa's memory. It's a team that the coaching staff and the players are always going to remember. We're always going to have a special attachment to it."
Q) Alisa would have been a senior next year. How do you think the team will continue to honor her memory?
"It's such a difficult decision. How do you handle it? What do you do? We've talked about not getting new uniforms so that we would wear the patches next year. We're discussing wearing the patches next year. Our team has been instrumental and mature in making decisions revolving around Alisa's situation. We have a lot of things as coaches we're talking about that we'll run by the team and let them be a huge part of the decision, because they have done so well with the decisions made throughout the year revolving around Alisa. We will also annually give at the team awards banquet the 'Alisa Lewis Most Inspirational Award.'"
Q) After opening the season with the best start in the last 11 years in school history at 8-2, do you ever find yourself wondering how good this team's record could have been if the tragedy hadn't happened?
"With the type of person I am, I never look back like that. I only look forward. It was great being 8-2. It was great winning our first Pac-10 game. We will look back on film so that we can make adjustments in the future so that we can continue to be successful. I have never been that kind of person to wonder what we could have done. I don't think our coaching staff does either. It's always how do we get our team to be successful in the future. That's why it was so rewarding that we won three of our last five games."
Q) How gratifying was the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award?
"Now I've had a little more time to reflect on it. As I said, it tells a lot about the character of the type of people we have as coaches in the Pac-10. I also think it says a lot about our team. People recognized that our team was a very good basketball team prior to Alisa's death and recognized that we were able to get back on track and be successful again. That's a little part of it. The other part of it is that the coaches recognize that in coaching our job is to help people be successful in life, not just in basketball, and how you handle adversity. The coaches recognize more than just basketball by honoring myself and my staff with this award. They were recognizing our contribution to our players lives and to basketball."
Q) At what points during the season were you most proud of the team?
"The way that they handled the death of Alisa and her memorial. The second was how we came out and performed against Oregon in the Pac-10 Tournament. That was truly great basketball. We didn't lose a beat from where we were. We were all extremely proud of the way we could bounce back after everything had happened. You not only have Alisa's death and now you lose a lot of games. The two things combined. You have Alisa's death you're overcoming. And, now you have losing your overcoming. That's a difficult thing to overcome. That Oregon game was definitely one of the times we were most proud of the team."
Check back on Monday, March 22, for the final installment of the Q&A with Caren Horstmeyer in which she discusses fan support, the seniors and the future of the program, among other topics.