By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
How could Frances Silva have known?
She was a freshman, granted the Big East’s Rookie of the Year, but still a freshman, and there she was with her West Virginia University teammates playing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, so close to reaching the final.
“That was an experience, but as a freshman you take it for granted, thinking it’s the norm,” she said as she took a moment out from returning to her fourth and final NCAA Tournament, which begins here at 7 o’clock tonight against Rutgers.
She learned the hard way that reaching the Sweet 16 is anything but a birthright.
While becoming a star player and the leader of the Mountaineers as a sophomore and junior and helping them to the NCAAs each year, both were terrible disappointments with first-round exits.
Now the Mountaineers are back for the 14th consecutive season under coach Nikki-Izzo Brown, back as the Big 12’s tournament champion, and they are hoping to make a push this season deeply into the tournament.
“Having gone out in the first round the last couple of years makes me personally more hungry to get back to the Sweet 16 or further. You don’t want to end your season like that,” Silva said.
Why does Silva believe the team failed to advance in each of the last two NCAAs?
“You have to stay focused,” she said. “Not to say we weren’t focused the last couple of years, but there is a little extra focus now. Virginia Tech, or whoever we may face in the next game, isn’t even talked about. It’s all about Rutgers. We have to first take care of business there.”
It’s a different kind of focus needed now.
“It’s a mentality, a focus. Not to say other games aren’t as important, but in the playoffs if you’re down 1-0 and there’s 20 minutes left, there’s a desperate situation that comes in. Adjustments have to be made where you might not make them during the regular season,” she said.
“It’s not that different. It’s still a soccer game, but there’s a little change, and it comes to game planning.”
The NCAAs are pretty much all that’s left for Silva to accomplish. She’s seen championships in both the Big East and Big 12.
Her 43 points are the most scored by any senior in school history.
Her 15 assists this year also rank as a school record, while her 43 points are second only to the 47 Chrissie Abbott had in 2002, and Silva may have a few games left to add to her total.
But this is not the time of year that anyone is thinking of personal accomplishments.
This is about winning, especially if you are a senior and you are facing for the first time what may be your final collegiate game every time you go out onto the field.
“I try not to think about it,” she said. “You have to go out and make sure that game isn’t the last game.”
Oddly, WVU began its season matched up with Rutgers in an Aug. 13 exhibition game, which it won easily, 3-0.
“They are a solid team, definitely not the team from pre-season. It’s not going to be a cakewalk and beat them, 3-0,” Silva said. “They have some special players. All the teams will from here on out. It’s the best teams. We can’t overlook anyone.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.