The 2009 WNBA season may be over, but the Indiana Fever isn't finished celebrating the most successful year in franchise history.
Though the Fever fell in the WNBA Finals, losing to the Phoenix Mercury 3-2 in the best of five series, the overwhelming fan support during the playoff run was enough to save the franchise. "It was a great experience for the team and players," says Tully Bevilaqua, the team's starting point guard. "It was a big disappointment though we didn't come away with the championship. But by making it to the finals and playing in perhaps the best finals in WNBA history, we achieved something special."
Friday evening, Oct. 23, Bevilaqua will host a celebration party at The Pub (30 E. Georgia St.) beginning at 6 p.m.
Viewership for the 2009 Finals doubled and the series has drawn rave reviews from the likes of Sports Illustrated. Going in, many felt the Fever couldn't compete with Phoenix's run-and-gun style of play. Bevilaqua feels the team proved their conditioning was equal to that of the eventual champions, but small mistakes and Phoenix's deadly shooting ultimately doomed the Fever. "It came down to we just didn't get our hands on loose balls we should have grabbed," she says. "And they are so accurate when it comes to shooting. When you play tough defense for 20 seconds of the shot clock and then they hit a three pointer as the clock expires it just deflates you. And with so many weapons - Taurasi, Pondexter, Smith, Taylor - you can't cover them."
The defeat was especially hard for teammate Katie Douglas, who returned to her hometown in 2008 with the purpose of helping her new team win a championship. Douglas had her best season ever in 2009 as a scorer. In games four and five of the Finals, though, Douglas' shot turned on her. "We patted her on the back and let her know we were 100% behind her," Bevilaqua says. "We live and die by the shots we take. We've been taking those shots all year long so there was no way we were going to tell her to stop shooting. We rallied behind KT. If you have an open shot it's a good shot and she had good shots. They just weren't going in."
While Douglas struggled, Bevilaqua also had the satisfaction of seeing her protégé, Briann January, step up in the playoffs. "Briann is a great story of the season," she says. "As a rookie, her roll was changed up a lot and she always adjusted. At the beginning of the season she started the first two games and then she started coming off the bench. It was a roller coaster experience for her. But during the second half of the season her confidence really began to grow. We formed a special bond as the team's point guards. She is going to be a special player in the league and is the future for the Fever at point guard."
The Fever may have fallen short in their first championship bid, but the experience, and the abundance of fan support during the run guaranteed there would be a next year for the team, something that was not so sure during the season. And next year is what Bevilaqua and her teammates are thinking of now. "We will try to duplicate our success," she says, adding that reaching the Finals has made the team want to work harder in the offseason.
And as players disperse around the globe to play in their winter leagues, Bevilaqua feels the offseason will be about individual improvement. She sees herself and her teammates working to get stronger and positioning themselves to be able to contribute more when 2010 arrives. She gives Jessica Davenport as example, a young player who was used sparingly during the season but came into the final game of the WNBA Finals and scored 18 points in nearly 18 minutes. "If we can work with her during the winter she could become very dominant and be able to give us more minutes next season," Bevilaqua says. "Our team chemistry is already good so mostly it will come down to extra work to make ourselves better."
Bevilaqua will stay in town during the offseason and participate in community events and make public appearances throughout the winter. "We want to keep our momentum going and stay in people's minds," she says. Along with Friday's event, Bevilaqua will also be participating in the St. Jude's Give Thanks Walk on Nov. 21. Bevilaqua is assembling a team for the event and information for joining or sponsoring her team can be found at www.givethankswalk.org.
"We as players are overwhelmed with the support, particularly coming back from Phoenix," Bevilaqua says of the growing connection between the Indianapolis community and the Indiana Fever. "To see all those people at the airport welcoming us back, that really meant a lot to us. It put things in perspective. We appreciate it and look forward to coming back next year. That's why we are still around, the fans filling up the arena for three straight games."