TAMPA, Fla. — After Oregon’s heartbreaking loss in Friday’s national semifinal, there were just two players uncontrollably sobbing in the team’s locker room.
They weren’t any of the starters and they weren’t the two seniors. Even the coaches themselves were put together in a calmly, quiet manner.
The two players most visibly upset were Oregon’s injured bench of freshmen Nyara Sabally and Taylor Chavez.
Maybe the overwhelming feelings they were experiencing were tied to being just freshmen and not yet being a part of such a devastating loss before Friday. Or maybe it was the feeling of knowing that they weren’t able to help their teammates when it was needed most.
Nyara Sabally waits in the wings after watching her sister, Satou, compete. Heartbreaking scenes in the locker room. pic.twitter.com/itu95RgKE1— Shawn Medow (@ShawnMedow) April 6, 2019
Whatever it may have been, that feeling felt magnified because of the added pressure of playing on the premier
stage of the Final Four.
“It’s awful not being able to play,” Sabally said with tearful eyes in the locker room after Friday’s game.
All year, Sabally has had to watch her team from the confined seats of the bench due to suffering a severe knee injury in the FIBA U18 European Championship game in August. Out the whole season, she’s watched her team play in its biggest wins and its worst losses. She’s gone to every away game and sat in every postgame locker room.
But watching is learning, and she said she’s learned a lot from playing a sidelined role this year.
“Now I know what it’s like and next year I’ll be able to play,” she said. “I know how it feels, like the atmosphere, so I think next year will be easier when it comes to that. Just being able to give the team something on the field not just from the bench.”
For the past 10 games, Chavez has accompanied Sabally on the bench as she’s nursed an ongoing foot injury.
Chavez was dressed down for Friday’s game, despite not practicing with the team since they arrived in Florida on Tuesday.
“If majority of people got in foul trouble I was in,” Chavez said. “I can’t play 100 percent right now, but if my team needed me, I’d just suck it up and play through the pain, obviously not at 100 percent but if they needed me, I would have been there.”
Instead of providing depth on the court, the two had to narrow their focus to cheering on their teammates.
“It’s obviously a different perspective because I’m not watching the game really to figure out what I’m going to do when I go in,” Chavez said. “I’m watching the game really just to cheer on my teammates and to find things for them seeing what can I say the next time in the next timeout to someone to get them back just kind of like being a cheerleader for my teammates.”
This year’s season is officially over. But next season, Sabally will be on the court and Chavez will be healthy once again. With a full year under their belts, they’ve gotten a historic first-year glimpse of what this Oregon program is capable of doing, and with their whole careers ahead of them, they should know that this just the beginning.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve done this season,” Sabally said. “Just fighting through and getting to the Elite Eight and then finally reaching the Final Four, and just playing our guts out on the field. I’m just so proud of the team, I can’t describe it. … I am so excited for next year and I can’t wait.”
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni