Handling Emotions, Lynx Celebrate While Picking Up A Win
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Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin felt the outpouring of support for the 2011 championship team long before Sunday’s pregame ceremony at Target Center. Seeing the banner raised on a day the team drew a season-opening franchise record 12,611 was simply icing on the cake.
Since she’s been back in Minnesota, fans have stopped to show their support everywhere she’s gone—at restaurants, at the store or on the street fielding "thank yous" from strangers while she's walking by.
“Everywhere we’ve been going, people have been so excited about the opportunity to say we love you; thank you for doing something for us,” McWilliams-Franklin said.
Sunday’s outing at Target Center was the perfect way to translate that excitement and energy from the 2011 title push into the Lynx’s new goal—the Road to Repeat. Minnesota took control in the second quarter and earned a 105-83 victory in front of a sellout crowd on national television. Had it not been for Seimone Augustus (ribs) leaving the game in the second half after diving for a loose ball in the stands, the day from start to finish was exactly what the team hoped for.
It was a chance for one last celebration with their faithful fans, and a strong victory to start the new campaign.
Coach Cheryl Reeve has stressed all week to her team that taking in the celebration was one thing, but the group needed to be prepared to move on and focus on the task at hand. She said watching the Dallas Mavericks lose after their banner-raising ceremony, then lose again when they got their rings later in the season, made her worry about pulling out a victory against the Mercury.
“I’m at Jim Petersen’s son’s graduation and all the stat guys are telling me, ‘Do you know what the stats say for a team who has to hold a ceremony like this?’” she joked. “So yeah, I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
Still, Reeve has the advantage of leading a team poised and focused on the task at hand. The club is aware no WNBA franchise has won back-to-back championships in a decade, and this club is trying to chase history from the very beginning. That journey began Sunday at Target Center, and in the end Minnesota found a way to come out on top.
Augustus stressed leading up to the game this week that this team understands what it’s trying to do, and her teammates would be able to enjoy the pregame moment while also being prepared to take on Phoenix moments later. She was right—after an even first quarter, the Lynx got stronger and stronger throughout the game on both ends of the floor. They held the Mercury to 16 points on 38 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, all but sealing the win.
“You could tell from the start we were a little off sync, and it took a while for us to get into the rhythm and everything,” guard Lindsay Whalen said. “But once we did that, I thought it was a good game for us.”
WNBA President Laurel Richie was on hand for the game, and she joined Lynx owner Glen Taylor on the court during the pregame festivities to address the crowd and hand out the championship rings. They, along with about 100 fans known as the Lynx Legends—a group of original season ticket members who have been with the team through its ups and downs since its inaugural season—were on the court during the banner ceremony. Many came early, long before the pregame festivities, to take in the pregame festivities and soak in the long-awaited moment.
Roxanne Allen, one of the Lynx Legends, said she thought about the franchise's earlier, leaner days when the banner was being unfurled. She said she was unwavering in maintaining her season tickets when friends questioned why, and it was worth the wait for this championship celebration.
"The misty eyes of several Lynx Legends standing nearby moved me," Allen said. "I thought how the owners, organization, coaches, team and fans are all so deserveing. Especially the Legends who 'stuck it out' when times were lean. Seimone Augustus—who has the longest tenure of that tough road traveled—and our hometown floor captain, LIndsay [Whalen], whom I watched grow her game at the U. It was the perfect start in 2012 to a perfect ending in 2011."
Richie, who has been in town all weekend, said the excitement level around the Lynx franchise left quite an impression.
“It was so great,” she said. “You can just feel it from spending time with the fans, with partners, with the players. You can just feel it. Walking over today, I was trying to get over here a couple hours early, and there were already fans coming in. It was terrific.”
Whalen, the Hutchinson native, said she grew up watching Timberwolves games and now feels proud to know she contributed to a banner raised in the Target Center rafters.
“It’s a great feeling, and something we’ll always be able to know we did last year and we did it together,” Whalen said. “Having that feeling makes it really special.”
Augustus said she felt the energy from the crowd from the start, and that translated into the game.
“You could tell our fans had been waiting, probably counting down the months until we returned, and it was fun to be able to experience that with them,” Augustus said. “But at the same time once the banner went up, the lights went on and we started warming up for the game, it was about 2012 and what we are trying to do.”
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