Apr 062005
 
Authors: Jon Pilsner

Anyone looking closely could have seen this coming.

The CSU athletic department announced Wednesday the resignation of women's basketball coach Chris Denker, bringing an end to his three-year term with the team. Denker became an embattled coach over the team during he 2004-2005 season.

"This is a new day," said Director of Athletics Mark Driscoll of the newly vacated coaching position.

A day this program needed. Badly, it seemed.

Throughout the season, there were signs of internal turmoil, most of the suspicion stemming from a missed practice. According to local media outlets, 12 of the 14 players on the roster talked to Driscoll about Denker, voicing complaints about him in a closed-door meeting of which Denker was not a part. What went on behind those closed doors has not been made public.

But, you didn't need to know what was said to realize the ship was sinking.

After starting the season with a hot record – the Rams were 15-6 overall and 4-2 in conference play before Feb. 5 – there was hope that CSU was becoming the juggernaut that it once was in women's hoops. There was no public evidence problems existed between the players and Denker.

And then, there was the evening of Feb. 5. The Rams, coming off a solid win on the road at Air Force, fell apart at New Mexico and stumbled home after a humiliating 75-49 loss.

And then, one day that week, when the Rams were supposed to be practicing, they were behind doors discussing their coach with only Driscoll.

After the meeting, the Rams seemed to lose faith and concentration. Getting right back to work, they lost 59-47 to Brigham Young at home, then to UNLV on the road. In fact, the Rams only won two more games the rest of the season, against the lowly Air Force Falcons and San Diego State. Then BYU defeated the Rams – for the third time this season – in the first round of the MWC tournament in Denver.

For the (second half of the season) remainder of the season, the entire team seemed to dance on the court to a song played in rhythm, but badly out of tune. There was a sense in the air that a wall had been put up, and it wasn't going to come down.

At the season finale against Air Force, Denker didn't appear on the court or in the tunnel until just a few moments before tip-off, skipping both pre-game warm-ups. His players filed out of the locker room, circled up in a traditional pre-game huddle and jogged onto the court.

The coach, it seemed, had already disappeared.

Of course, it was obvious that some of the players had turned him out. Vanessa Espinosa, the gritty and gutsy guard who had been able to hit many big shots, started missing and missing frequently. She totaled only three points in the season's final three games. The team was sometimes casual on the court, and Denker's yelling appeared not to faze the players anymore. Denker's voice got softer, his tone more subdued.

But it was already too late.

Even with a spirited run late in the season, the Rams were unable to get any swagger or confidence back. Close losses to Mountain West Conference powerhouses Utah and New Mexico hinted that there was some hope, but it was too little, much too late.

"It's been tough for us," said junior forward Lindsay Thomas, one of the team's most productive and talented members.

That's probably an understatement.

But, as the search for a replacement begins, there's no doubt that the wall between player and coach is finally down. Now, the CSU women can get back to basketball.

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