WNIT MVP Toni Young was the Cowgirl who opened up most about losing–and honoring–coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna during a chat with the Tulsa World’s Jimmie Tramel and I following the postgame press conference.
It was then that she revealed she started wearing her shoes from freshman year–which is when Budke and Serna both first started pushing her and telling her they believed in her–at the start of the WNIT. She went on to average 20.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in the tournament while posting her three highest point totals of the season during those six games.
Here’s a portion of our conversation.
On her relationship with Budke and Serna:
He was really like a father, and she was like a mother figure to me here the whole time. They were my backbone and my support. Losing them, I got really down and emotional about it, but I know that they’re always here for me, regardless if I can see them or not.
On her performance in the WNIT:
I wanted to honor my coaches. We wanted to make it into the NCAA Tournament, but that didn’t happen, so we weren’t about to let that get us down. We were going to bring back something for our coaches and (to) remember them.
On what OSU coach Jim Littell told her during a hug at midcourt right after the game:
He told me he was so proud of me, and if I didn’t get out and work for my team like this, then he didn’t know where we would have been.
On her favorite part of the postgame celebration:
Seeing Shelley Budke cut down the net and smiling with us. To see a smile on their face, they’ve had it harder than us, they lost a dad, a son, a husband. To see a smile on their face and for them to know that we did this for them, it meant a lot
On the biggest thing Budke taught her:
Every time I’d be down, playing horrible, he’d pull me to the side and tell me ‘Toni, you can play. I believe in you.’ Him and coach Serna were always on me, telling me what I need to do better. That kept me going the whole season last year and my freshman year, seeing that they still believed in me. And then I really started to see that in Coach Littell, so I’m going to play for him.
On if that message–the fact that Budke believed in her–is still in the back of her mind when she’s playing:
I constantly think about them all the time. I play for the name on the front of my jersey and the names on my shoes.
On how things will be different now that the season is over:
We’ll still be here with each other. Everyone breaks down every once in a while when they go home. Still I have my moments where I just miss them a lot, and I break down here and there, but I know that regardless, that they’re still here