Brooks: Dale Making Most Of Her Final Semester
BOULDER - Chelsea Dale doesn't see herself living/playing in a "making-up-for-lost-time" mode. It's just the opposite, in fact.
Dale is living/playing in the moment - and largely reveling in it. The fact that she missed the first half of her senior season on the Colorado women's basketball hardly registers with her anymore. Truth is, she's so far past it that it's barely a memory, a foggy one if that.
"It's kind of like now that I'm back in it, I've forgotten that I missed all those games," Dale said. "It doesn't feel like I did; there was nothing different about the way my coaches or my teammates coached me or treated me. It's in the past and we've gone on from there. We still kick each other's butts in practice and all that stuff."
Maybe of more importance, sitting out the fall semester for academic reasons got her full attention and re-focused her priorities. "It was unfortunate it happened, but I took a lot away from it," she said.
A 6-foot-1 senior guard from Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., Dale is making the most of her final semester of hoops. She's started seven of the past 13 games (the ones since regaining her eligibility in mid-December) and is fulfilling the role she's been assigned by Coach Linda Lappe.
"Her starting is the best thing for our team right now," Lappe said. "I always like to have players that bring energy and a spark off the bench. With her starting, I think we have a good bench game, and I think that's important . . . it's also important to start the games well and I think she's helped us do that."
Dale was her high school's all-time leader in points and three-pointers, but she's adjusted to life on the lower half of the stat sheet at CU. Dale is averaging just under five points and two rebounds a game. Her 63 points in 13 games this season are 20 more than she scored in the first 47 games of her CU career.
"I think every game is kind of a different role for me," she said. "Whether it's defense or offense, I just try and contribute what the coaches need. I'm not the top scorer on the team, I'm not the go-to shooter or anything like that. But when I do get the ball I'm expected to shoot it and knock it down.
"I've never heard it before, but the coaches say if I get a pass and am wide open, I need to knock it down or I'm selfish. I've never heard that before. So I just try to do everything I can, and I feel like I'm doing it pretty well."
The Buffs are coming off what Dale and Lappe consider their "most complete" game of the season - a 70-45 rout of Nebraska last Sunday.
Dale called it "a great win for us . . . every athlete needs the reinforcement that they're great at what they do, and they're contributing. Everyone in that game got that feeling - whether it was defense or offense. When we pulled it all together and saw what damage we could do, that was just a great feeling. We take that going into Saturday's game (against Texas Tech, 4 p.m., Coors Events Center).
"Every game we're always critical of ourselves, no matter how well we did. I think overall it was up there - a solid 'A' for us. Our defense and offense were really good. But like the coaches say, there's always stuff we can watch film on and improve on. But what you really take away from that one is that it was a really good one for us to win."
Lappe agreed, even taking it a step further. In her estimation, it was even more satisfying than last month's 66-60 overtime win against No. 16/17 Iowa State because her team "kind of kept our foot on the gas pedal and didn't let them come back. They made a little run in the second half and we came right back at them and hit them again. And I thought everybody played well, from our post players to our guards, offensively and defensively, and we scored in a lot of different ways and weren't relying on the three.
"But we were knocking them down when they were open and our ball movement was fantastic - probably the best it's been all year. And the defense was as good as on a couple of other occasions. But to put both of them together is always key."
The Buffs haven't played since dispatching the Huskers, and a couple of off-days were welcomed by players and coaches to attend to the small details of life and school. There also was the matter of rest.
"In practice (Wednesday, the first day back) everyone looked and felt great," Dale said. "I think it just gave us a time to refocus on what's coming next - not just the next game but what the road ahead of us might bring. I think, too, it was a great time for us to get our academic stuff in order, because we have been going full speed since the semester started. A good two days is a great time to get caught up on things."
There's a school of thought (probably old school) that contends a break after such a focused, effective performance might lead to losing an edge. But schedules are what they are, and given her thin roster Lappe believes the timing of the break was opportune.
"We'll see how we play (Saturday)," she said. "But I think everybody came back kind of like they did after Christmas . . . our legs were a little tired; we've got some players who've played a lot of minutes because we just don't have a lot of players."
With Big 12 Conference play inching toward its final month, CU is hoping to resurrect last weekend's momentum and sustain it through early March. The arrival of Texas Tech offers a nice first step; the Buffs are tied with the Lady Raiders and Missouri (all are 3-6) for seventh place in the conference. Tech brings a six-game losing streak - currently the league's longest - to Boulder.
"I think we're really close to peaking and plateauing . . . we're right there," Dale said. "And that's what Coach Lappe is always talking about; she says that February is the month to play our best basketball. I think Sunday's game (against Nebraska) is very indicative of what we can do and what we're becoming."
Dale has a teaching/coaching career in mind, but her options are open; she's also developed an interest in broadcasting and has "made connections" with FSN Rocky Mountain's Alanna Rizzo.
"I could give you the 'parental friendly' version," she said with a laugh when I asked her what's next. "I'm hoping to stay in school and work towards either my masters or teaching certificate. I'll be coaching over the summer (in Colorado). But when fall hits, I'm not quite sure. It's pretty open . . .
"My coaches ask me that and I tell them, 'Right now I'm focusing on making sure I'm not messing up for you during the Big 12 season.' I've told them when stuff starts winding down, that's when I'll look into job offers, interviews and other stuff."
For now, the "job offers, interviews and other stuff" are on hold. There's the more pressing matter of advancing in the Big 12 standings and Dale putting a fitting punctuation mark on her final season.
"I just still think I'm lucky to be here," she said. "So I go into every game thankful that I have the opportunity to play a sport I love and be in an environment that's so awesome. You just can't get much better than this. I just enjoy where I am now. If there's anything more I could do, I would do it.
"If there is, my coaches will tell me and that's what I go for. I'm not really a person who's all about me; I would love to see my teammates go to the NCAA Tournament - that's all we've been working for. It's a step we haven't taken yet, especially the three seniors. We haven't been there, and it would be a great way to close out the year."
A year, a half a year . . . who's counting? Chelsea Dale could have allowed the dubious start of her final season to define her finish. She didn't - and that's been very good for her and her team.