March 10, 2011
MADISON, Wis. - This was not the type of ending that Tara Steinbauer envisioned for her senior year, not by a long shot. Nor was this the kind of finish to the regular season that Steinbauer anticipated for the UW women’s basketball team, now a long shot to make the NCAA tournament.
“I can’t hang my head too low,” she said.
And neither can her Badger teammates, who must now focus on Illinois and their first round game Thursday in the Big Ten tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. In their only previous meeting, the UW beat the Illini, 60-47, at the Kohl Center. Steinbauer had a game-high 19 points.
“They know I’m not going to be putting a brace on; they know I’m not coming back,” said Steinbauer, who will have surgery on March 10 for a torn ACL.
The Badgers have lost three of four since Steinbauer injured her right knee in the early minutes of their Feb. 16 game at Iowa.
“I felt a strong twist – what I thought at the time was a twist,” Steinbauer recalled. “Looking back, it was probably the popping of my ACL. I knew it was bad. I joked with the trainers and the coaches that I took it like a champ because I didn’t scream and I didn’t cry.
“This comes with the territory. It’s unfortunate and it obviously comes at a bad time of the season. It sort of hit me that this is the end of my career. But it’s kind of like the old cliché when one door shuts another opens. I just have to make sure I’m there for my teammates.”
Steinbauer doesn’t see herself as a cheerleader. “We go with student assistant coach,” she said, laughing. “I joke that they can call me Coach Tara now. It’s definitely a different perspective sitting on the bench and getting to sort of witness things – our strengths and weaknesses.”
If you’re looking for a sign of weakness in Steinbauer, forget about it. You won’t find her feeling sorry for herself. “I’ve been very fortunate to have an otherwise very healthy career,” said Steinbauer, a native of Bloomington, Minn. “And I realize I still have a very important role on this team.”
In this context, she’s hoping her voice – her encouragement and positive reinforcement – will be heard by her teammates. “It’s onward and upwards from here,” she said. “We faced some adversity early in the year and this is just a little bit more. I couldn’t be more proud of them as a group.”
It does pain her that she won’t be able to compete in the Big Ten tournament. “I love that venue (Canseco) and I love playing there,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful experience and a nice way to cap the conference season by showcasing what we’ve got and how hard we’ve worked.”
For inspiration, she noted, the Badgers have been playing “Lean on Me” in the locker room, a song originally made famous by Bill Withers in the early ‘70s.
Isn’t that a little corny? “A lot corny,” Steinbauer said. “But it couldn’t be more true. They’ve been there for me every step of the way.”
And she will be there for her teammates – adding that her injury “has opened up some opportunities for some bench players to clock some minutes and get some good experience.” That’s a good thing, she said, because it will give the core group of post players a jumpstart on next season.
What’s next for Tara Steinbauer? She will graduate in May with a degree in marketing through the school of business. And she will follow some leads in Chicago and Minneapolis.
“Maybe one day you’ll see me doing sports announcing for the Big Ten Network, who knows?” she said.
For now, she’s coming to grips with her injury “and the finality of the situation” and preparing for surgery.
“I have a long road of rehab ahead of me,” she said. “It’s taught me patience. I’m just sort of waiting for things to come together.” Not unlike her UW teammates – without her.
By Mike Lucas