West Virginia’s 72-70 loss to No. 4 Texas at the Coliseum in Morgantown on Saturday, complete with a game-winning 3-pointer from Longhorns guard Andrew Jones with 1.8 seconds left, was enough to leave even the most rabid Mountaineer fan feeling hollow and empty.
But it didn’t take long for WVU fans and beyond to have their hearts filled with joy and program pride. All they had to do was pay attention to the Coliseum’s second game of the day.
While WVU’s men’s team fell in heartbreaking fashion to a highly ranked Texas squad, the WVU women (8-2 overall, 2-2 Big 12 Conference) took apart the then-14th-ranked Longhorns in a 92-58 conquest in the second game of a basketball doubleheader on Saturday. While the result was certainly nice for a team that has once again started strong for 17th-year coach Mike Carey, the real story from Morgantown had little to do with the final score.
What played out over the course of the game resembled that of a Hollywood script. And by the end, a WVU star was born.
If you’ve paid any attention, senior guard Kysre Gondrezick has been a star for the Mountaineers, leading WVU in scoring a year ago at 15.3 points per game in a COVID-19-abbreviated season, and she has upped that to 20.5 per contest so far this season. She also leads the team in assists (4.3 per game), made 3-pointers (24) and steals (1.9 per game).
On Saturday, Gondrezick again led WVU, pouring in 24 points to go with seven assists against Texas. But as her numbers piled up, Gondrezick was fighting the urge to break down.
If her name sounds familiar, both Gondrezick’s father Grant and uncle Glen spent time in the NBA. Grant Gondrezick spent time with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers in the 1980s while Glen Gondrezick played six seasons in the late 1970s and early ’80s with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.
Glen Gondrezick passed away in 2009 at the age of 53.
And on Thursday of last week, Grant Gondrezick also passed away at a young age, dying at the age of 57, just two days before WVU’s big matchup against the Longhorns.
Yet when the team took the floor on Saturday, there was Kysre Gondrezick, and aside from the pain pouring out in her facial expressions between plays, nothing looked different.
Her efforts through adversity were enough to help the Mountaineers earn a critical win, but they also earned the respect of teammates and even opponents. Texas coach Vic Schaefer shared a moment with Gondrezick after the game, as did Longhorns forward/center Charli Collier, who is projected to be the top pick in the next WNBA draft.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to that kid,” Schaefer said after the game. “I admire her for her courage today because that was a courageous thing that she did.”
Indeed, and it resonated with me as well.
My fiance’ lost her father just after Christmas. It’s a helpless feeling to watch someone close to you go through the ordeal of losing a parent, one most of us will face at some point in our lives.
That’s the same kind of feeling Gondrezick’s teammates and coaches felt Saturday and still likely feel now.
“You’ve got to give her a lot of credit, she come out and played extremely hard and very proud of her and the team,” Carey said. “We always say we’re family, but we really are. When she’s hurting we’re all hurting.”
Everyone handles grief differently. No one would have blamed Gondrezick at all if she skipped the game. In fact, Carey didn’t know he would have his star guard until the morning of the game.
But while Gondrezick was carrying a world’s worth of heartbreak, she also chose to carry her team as well. That was reciprocated after the game with a big group embrace around Gondrezick. She was also helped off the floor by teammates as the emotions finally burst through.
“This is a hard time for her, I can’t imagine the feelings that were going through her today while we were playing and after that big win,” WVU forward Kari Niblack said. “Her putting together the game she had today — I commend her. I respect her more than anything.”
So do I. And so should all WVU fans, many of whom likely thought things couldn’t get much worse after Jones’ late shot buried the men’s team.
But leave it to an athlete to provide the perspective that life is bigger than sports.