The Honda Center crowd erupted.
Eighth-seeded Cal State Fullerton had just tied the top-seeded Pacific Tigers at 51-51 with 16 seconds remaining in the Big West Tournament semifinals; the same Pacific team that had defeated the Titans by an average of 21.5 points per contest over the schools' last two meetings.
But in just a matter of moments jubilation turned to disappointment, as the Tigers' Erica McKenzie sprinted down the court, peeled around a screen and nailed the eventual game-winning three-pointer to send Pacific to the Big West title game, while putting an end to what will go down as one of the most emotional seasons in Cal State Fullerton women's basketball history.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."
The saying is considered to be one of the most famous political quotes of all time, but for the Titans it soon became much more than just an inspirational phrase or a clever assembly of words. It turned into the foundation that helped a group of young women turn utter tragedy into a story of inspiration, togetherness, and toughness.
On Feb. 3, 2013, the Cal State Fullerton women's basketball program lost assistant coach Monica Quan due to a tragic murder.
The Titans were already struggling on the court, as they had dropped five straight contests, after winning five of their pervious six games. But this was a blow no one could have possibly fathomed.
"A really bright light was put out way too soon — someone whose passion was impacting young women with the game of basketball," said head coach Marcia Foster during a Feb. 4 press conference. "As an assistant, she was someone I counted on to tell me the truth. I loved that about her; I loved her work ethic and her passion for life. We are going to have some work to do because too many young women have been affected by this."
And while hearts ached and tears shed, the Titans did go back to work.
Fullerton returned to the basketball court just six days later on Saturday, Feb. 9 vs. UC Riverside. The Titans took the floor with warm-up shirts that spelt out "MOtivation" on the front and the phrase "It's the courage to continue that counts" on the back. These served as daily reminders as to what the rest of the season would be about.
With issues much bigger than basketball on everyone's mind, the Titans' 64-45 loss to the Highlanders was nothing but an afterthought.
"It was definitely tough out there," said junior guard Alex Thomas after the game. "We wish we could have come out with a better result, but the season isn't over and we're just going to come out and try to honor (coach Quan) every day we step on the court."
At this point maybe some teams would have understandably packed it in, but as the days went on, slowly tragedy began to churn into an inspirational story of hard work, determination, and togetherness.
With the season starting to slip away after nine straight defeats, Fullerton secured an improbable, 60-42, road victory at UC Davis on Feb. 23, after trailing by as many as nine points in the second half, for just the team's second road win of the season. But more importantly, it vaulted the Titans back into postseason contention.
With the win, Fullerton was 4-10 in conference play and stood just one game back of UC Irvine (9-17) for the eighth and final Big West Tournament slot with four games left in the regular season.
Four days later, the Titans rose to the occasion once again, as they returned home and defeated UC Santa Barbara, 46-38, to snap what was a 40-game losing streak to the Gauchos, extending all the way back to the 1995 season.
It came down to the final day of the regular season, but the win ultimately was enough for Cal State Fullerton, as the Titans snuck into the postseason field as the eighth seed.
But just qualifying for the tournament wasn't enough for the Titans. They were here to win.
Fullerton's first test was vs. five-seeded Long Beach State; a team Fullerton had gone 0-2 against during the regular season.
The Titans' chances of making a deep tournament run weren't promising early, as Fullerton scored just 13 first half points, and trailed the 49ers by three at halftime. It was the least amount of points Fullerton had ever scored in any half in the Big West Tournament.
But, behind a wild second half flurry, led by Alex Thomas' 11 second-half points, Fullerton rallied from an eight-point deficit late in the game to upset five-seeded Long Beach State, 54-48, on March 12 in the opening round of the Big West Tournament.
And the run wouldn't stop there.
A day later, the Titans went on to capture what would be the Big West shocker of the year, as Fullerton cruised into the tournament's semifinal round after a convincing 66-51 win over three-seeded Hawai'i in the quarterfinals.
"We're super excited," junior forward Mya Olivier said with a grin after scoring a season-high 17 points in the victory. "On the drive down here we drove by the Honda Center and I was just imagining what it would be like to walk though the players' door and now I'm finally going to know."
That would be the final win for the 2012-13 Titans, as they eventually fell to the top-seeded Pacific Tigers in the semifinals. But when it comes right down to it, for 14 basketball players, success was never going to be measured by wins and losses, or makes and misses.
In fact, for the 2012-13 Titans, success really had nothing to do with basketball at all.
"I told everyone we would be good," said Foster after the Titans' semifinal loss to Pacific. "I just didn't know it would take this long. After the tragedy the team stayed resilient. This team could have broken apart, because we were already struggling on the court. But they didn't, they knew they would be good. We did big things this season and I'm proud."
As the book closes on the 2012-13 season, it's easy to be optimistic for the future of Fullerton basketball, as the Titans are scheduled to return 13 players from this season's roster, all of which will never forget what it truly means to be a team.
After all, "It is the courage to continue that counts."
2012-13 Season Recap
Cal State Fullerton advanced to the semifinal round of the Big West Tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season, and was just three points away from playing in the program's second ever Big West Tournament championship game, as Pacific's Erica McKenzie swished a three-pointer with seven seconds left to give the Tigers a 54-51 win over the Titans in the conference tournament semifinals.
Fullerton ended the season winning two of it's final three contests and sporting a 4-4 mark through its final eight contests, after shaking off a season-long nine-game losing skid.
The Titans entered 2012-13 as the sixth youngest team in women's Division I basketball, and after having to deal with the tragic death of assistant coach Monica Quan, still ended the season with a trip to the school's 12th consecutive Big West Tournament, as the Titans went 11-22 overall and 5-13 in conference play during the regular season to finish eighth in the Big West. Fullerton has now secured seven double-digit win seasons in the last eight years.
After four seasons as the head coach at Cal State Fullerton, Marcia Foster went 46-79 (.368) and led the Titans to four consecutive Big West Tournament appearances. During her 10-year tenure on the Fullerton coaching staff, she coached nine players to 19 all-conference accolades, including two athletes to five first-team conference awards.
Big West Conference Awards
Freshman guard Annie Park was named to the Big West's 2013 All-Freshman team this season. She started 14 times and averaged 4.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, and one assist per game. She shot a conference-leading 40.7 percent (22-of-54) from three-point land during Big West play. Her 1.3 three-point makes per game during conference play ranked eighth in the league as well. Park became the first Titan freshman to earn all-conference honors since My Olivier earned the same nomination at the end of the 2009-10 campaign.
Junior forward Mya Olivier was named to the Big West Conference's 2013 All-Tournament team, as she averaged 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game over the Titans' three-game Big West Tournament run. Her 17 points scored vs. Hawai'i in the quarterfinals marked a season-high, while her two three's made and two assists both equalled season-bests. She became just the 10th Titan all-time to collect a spot on the tournament's all-conference team, and the first since Toni Thomas represented Fullerton on the squad back in 2009.
Titans Stun Hawai'i in Big West Quarterfinals (March 13, 2013)
Cal State Fullerton's 66-51 vs. Hawai'i on March 13 advanced the Titans to the semifinal round of the Big West Tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Titans Rally to Shock Long Beach State in First Round of Big West Tourney (March 12, 2013)
Cal State Fullerton's 54-48 vs. Long Beach State on March 12 marked the Titans' first conference tournament win since the 2009-10 season...the win snapped a seven-game neutral court losing streak for the Titans.
Titans Snap 40-game Losing Skid vs. UC Santa Barbara (Feb. 28, 2013)
Cal State Fullerton's 46-38 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 28 snapped what was a 40-game losing streak to the Gauchos dating back to Feb. 26, 1995....the streak was the second longest active losing skid to a conference opponent in Division I women's basketball... the 38 points scored by UCSB was the least amount of points a Fullerton opponent had scored since Dayton was held to just 33 points on Dec. 4, 1987....the 38 points scored was also the lowest point total recorded in any Big West game this season.
Tailer Butler catches fire vs. Hawai'i (Jan. 3, 2013)
Tailer Butler's 27 points scored on Jan. 3 vs. Hawai'i was the most by any Titan since Megan Richardson also posted 27 points Dec. 12, 2011 vs. San Jose State... her 27 points were also the most points any Titan had produced off the bench since Lauren Chow scored 28 points Nov. 17, 2007... Butler's seven threes made during the game was just one shy of the all-time school record set by Autumn Hollyfield on Nov. 26, 1993, as she hit eight treys vs. Arizona.
With her block on Feb. 14 vs. Long Beach State, senior center Lauren Bushong moved into third place on Cal State Fullerton's all-time blocks list. She ends her Titan career with 77 career blocks and a team-leading 28 swats for the 2013 season. She finishes just 10 blocks shy of Terri Withers (87) for second place on the list. She concluded the season tied for eighth in the Big West in blocked shots per game (0.8).
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