Durham, N.C. – You could say that Tricia Liston and Haley Peters are the enduring heart and soul of the ninth-ranked Duke Blue Devils women’s basketball team.
At least, they’re the remaining senior leaders of one of the country’s most challenged top-10 teams entering first-round play in the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament that begins in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
During their careers at Duke, both players have been critical in helping head coach Joanne P. McCallie rework their team twice after losing fellow senior guard Chelsea Gray last season and earlier this year.
With sophomore guard Alexis Jones tasked to control the point as she did last year after Gray was injured, it looked as though the Blue Devils would forge another successful path towards the Elite 8 and beyond for a fourth consecutive time.
However, when Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury herself in late February, the Blue Devils were challenged once again to morph themselves for a third time in a year.
“I’ve been looking for any place, ever, where something comparable has happened,” McCallie said.
“I thought to myself, ‘We always wanted to make history, but that’s not exactly the kind of history we want to make.’ It’s obviously been a very difficult situation. I’ve gained great personal strength from the team and their resiliency. They’re young, too. They just bounce back. I’ve had some difficult private moments, just not even being able to believe some of the news that’s been given at times. All-in-all, it’s been quite a year that way.”
Duke’s only played in five games with a reworked lineup that has placed more responsibility to control the point not only on Liston, but upon fellow senior Richa Jackson and junior Ka’lia Johnson, while center Elizabeth Williams has once again carried an increased load up front.
It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch, as the Blue Devils have won three out of those five games, losing to rival No. 12 North Carolina on the last day of the regular season, and most recently to second-ranked Notre Dame, a defeat that forced this team to relinquish its hold of the ACC Tournament title and trophy.
However, this is the same but ‘new’ group that also posted a 30-point drubbing of Georgia Tech before avenging their loss to the Tar Heels by beating them in Greensboro six days later and earned a berth into the ACC championship game against the Fighting Irish.
Many are unsure of what to expect of Duke as it enters into NCAA Tournament play.
On the outside, expectations have lessened from what they were back at the beginning of the season, but this team has shown that it can still play to the high level that it needs to in order to compete and succeed.
Both Liston and Peters are the reason for that, among others like Williams, Jackson and Johnson.
However, the Blue Devils’ two senior leaders have been tasked to push the limit and illustrate what the true character of this team truly is.
They don’t want to end their season any sooner than they have before.
They begin their final postseason against the 15th-seeded and NCAA Tournament first-timers, the Winthrop Eagles, in a pod that also includes seventh-seeded DePaul and No. 10 seed Oklahoma.
“It’s our last go around, our last new season of the year and like [Coach P] said, we just want to make the most of it,” Peters said before practice on Friday.
“Being able to be in Cameron for our first two games is really special thing for us going out, and we’re just trying to extend our season for as long as we can, play as many games as we can, and grow as much as we can, and just make the most out of it.”
Two wins, their final two victories on their home court, would put Liston and Peters and the Blue Devils on their way to follow a familiar path they’ve traveled before.
They’re not there yet, nor are they assuming they are either.
They’re just appreciative of having the opportunity to continue to achieve success.
“Playing in Cameron is really nice for us, being able to play in front of our home crowd and fans again, but we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and earn the right to play another game with this team because after that we’re moving on and we won’t be able to play under coach or with our teammates again,” Liston said.
“I think it’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that. The tournament is a really fun time but at the same time, any game can be your last so we’re just taking it one game at a time and really living in the moment of it.”
Living in the moment – with heart and soul.