Monarchs veterans led the way
The Heart of A Champion
By Matt Wurst, WNBA.com
SACRAMETO, Calif., Sept. 20, 2005 - What do Ruthie Bolton, Chantel Tremitiere, Tajama Abraham and Bridgette Gordon all have in common? They were all apart of the first Monarchs team that went 10-18 in the WNBA's inaugural season in 1997. The team gave up 75.4 points per game that season.
Of the original eight teams - New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Charlotte, Utah, Cleveland and Sacramento - two of the teams won championships (Sparks and Comets), three more have been to the Finals and come up just short (Liberty, Mercury and Sting) and two more no longer exist (Starzz, now the Silver Stars, and the Rockers). That left just the Monarchs.
The following season, 1998, Ticha Penicheiro, Tangela Smith and Lady Grooms joined the squad, but Sacramento was only able to win eight games. Then, in 1999, Yolanda Griffith came over from the ABL and the franchise enjoyed its first winning season, going 19-13. But subsequent trips to the Playoffs and the Western Conference Finals always ended early for the Monarchs. Griffith and Penicheiro are the only remaining players left from those early teams.
"Having Yolanda and Ticha to lead a group of new, young players has just been I mean, I had a good feeling about their skills fitting in with our system, but you never know whether all those pieces will be cohesive or not," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said.
But they persevered and stuck with it until they finally won one together. We saw glimpses of their heart in the various serious losses. After all, it took tremendous resilience to make it back to the Conference Finals four times. Though they were not always without their personal doubts.
There were other veterans have waited a long time for this.
Pivot Olympia Scott-Richardson has played on five teams in seven seasons while forward DeMya Walker just completed her sixth, and first All-Star, season. Penicheiro and Griffith just completed their eighth and seventh WNBA seasons respectively.
Long-time Monarchs player Ruthie Bolton "retired" prior to the season and Grooms gave birth in the offseason and sat out this season. Longtime veteran Edna Campbell ended up in San Antonio and Tangela Smith was shipped to Charlotte. But Bolton stuck around and continues to serve out ser reign as Miss Monarch.
"This means so much. I'm so happy and it feels like we are dreaming," Bolton said. This organization has worked so hard and come so close so many times. I'm so glad I decided not to go to another team this season because even though I was not playing, I felt just as important."
"Of course I wish I could have actually been a member of the team of players out there on the court," Bolton said. "It was not really my choice, but the situation and a set of circumstances beyond my control. I woke up this morning and wished I could put on my uniform again. But I know that I am a part of this team in a lot of ways.
The rest of the squad is made up of first, second or third year players like Chelsea Newton, Kristin Haynie, Rebekkah Brunson and Kara Lawson, who look to Griffith, Penicheiro and Walker for leadership.
"If it was not for my teammates being hungry like me and feeling the pain I felt so many years being in Sacramento, not being able to get over that hump. We had some young players that was hungry and they listened and they were determined," Griffith said. "We beat each other up day in and day out in practice. We had some crucial injuries with DeMya going down, Ticha going down in the playoffs against Houston. I've been hurt half the season. My knee right now is swollen like a big cantaloupe, but I knew that we were determined to be the champions from the way we started and all the injuries that we had and it didn't matter who stepped on the court, we stayed as a team, we were determined. And it's just a dream come true."
In the meantime, she and her teammates have finally earned a chance to rest and let up just a bit. But don't expect that heart to grow weaker with just a few sips of champagne.
"Once you win one, you're hungry to win another one," Griffith said. "So we'll be back next year."