Senior night is a time-honored tradition in sport. It’s the player’s final home game of their career, and parents, friends, and other well-wishers are on-hand to honor them. Sometimes, a player that is a non-starter gets the starting nod as a symbolic gesture.
Four players were so honored at Williams Arena Feb. 23 prior to the Gophers-Purdue women’s basketball game. Allina Starr was the only Minneapolis native among the four seniors.
But once the game began, Starr sat for all but one minute of the 40-minute contest. I have known her since she was a pre-teen. I have known her father even longer. We talked to both of them afterwards.
“I’m frustrated,” admitted Allina. Her sad face spoke volumes. “That wasn’t easy,” added her father Alan Starr from his arena seat. With other family members nearby, he chose his words carefully rather than fully disclose the hurt feelings he shared with his daughter — the hurt of disappointment.
“I don’t have any regrets or bad thoughts. The coaching staff worked with her and gave her an opportunity,” he said.
From starting, to top reserve, to mop-up minutes, to barely being mentioned in final box scores, Starr’s diminished status this season was very noticeable. It’s the coach’s prerogative on playing time disbursement — they elected to give one of their seniors a 60-second cameo on senior night.
“I have no idea [why],” continued Allina. “It’s her ultimate decision as coach,” she said of Coach Marlene Stollings. “I have to go with what she says and do what she says at this point.”
For the record, another senior, Karley Barnes from Milwaukee, didn’t see any action that night, but the other two seniors did.
Maybe this isn’t a big deal? After all, Allina graduated with her degree in December and is taking graduate classes. “That’s all that matters,” she told us with the same painful expression on her face. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”
The 5’-10” guard originally attended Auburn before transferring to Minnesota after her freshman season. After sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules, Starr started 17 of 21 games last season.
This season, however, she only started two, has four DNPs (did not play), and only one game where she has logged double-digit minutes (14 minutes against Wisconsin January 7).
Coaches told us before the season they were high on Allina, but from our vantage point sitting across from the Minnesota bench in media row, that high seems to have plunged to freezing cold.
“I’ve never been this disappointed,” said Allina. Her father seemed to try his best to remain positive, however. “It’s on to the next chapter,” he said. “It was good to see her at home.”
“I’m happy that I was blessed with the opportunity to come here and able to play in front of my family,” said Allina. “A lot of people don’t get that opportunity” to play in your hometown, where your childhood home is literally in the university’s backyard. “[To] be able to go home on weekends being so close home I’m grateful and blessed, but as a ballplayer and a competitor, this is not my scene.”
There is a possibility of Allina playing a fifth year, if approved by the NCAA. With her emotions still raw, when asked if that possibility presented itself would she play in a Gopher uniform, she replied, “Probably not. I obviously will have to go somewhere else.”
“She could get another look and start off somewhere new,” her father said, seemingly optimistic. But the pain in his face said otherwise.
Globe-tracking the Lynx
Sylvia Fowles became the first foreign-born player to be named MVP as Beijing won the WCBA title — see accompanying photo. It was their second straight WCBA title, defeating Bayi 96-77 to complete a sweep of the best-of-five series and an unbeaten eight-game run through the 2017 postseason.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.