For four years Lisa Kellaher has played tough, emotional basketball at Catholic University. Now, on a Sunday morning after practice, the toughest part of her career had arrived.
She surveyed the gymnasium, an occasional bounce of a basketball breaking the silence, and nodded her head a few times. The tears followed, swelling her eyes enough for a drop to run along the cheek.
"It's going to be hard . . . when we have our tournament," she said the other day at Raymond DuFour Center. "It's going to hit, although it hit me here last night. It's hitting me now. Four years is a long time, and I've had a good time. Yeah, I'm getting choked up."
It's tough to say goodbye.
To Kellaher, who played at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, winning almost seems an obsession. In practice and in the games, her feet seem to be in constant motion, even during a break in play. She has even been known to get a technical or two.
Kellaher grew up in a large family that included five brothers. That's where her intense desire to win originated.
"I'm a hustler," said Kellaher, a 5-foot-6 guard who is leading the area college women in scoring with a 25-point average. "I want to play ball, and that's all there is to it. It doesn't matter if the ball is in the bleachers, I'll go after it. I've got that killer instinct.
"I just can't go out, once I foul, and laugh about it," she said. "I'm mad at myself, not at the referees or my teammates. It helps me some games, but it hurts me a lot of games . . . They'll get players in there just to push me around because they know I have a temper. It's wrong, because I'm not a dirty ballplayer. There's a difference between a dirty ballplayer and a hustler."
Said Dave Spannbauer, her coach at Catholic: "She has a very good blend of athletic skills and intensity. She has an intensity level that puts her a notch above other players. If you bet her $5 that she couldn't run through a brick wall, she'd do it a few times before giving up."
Some teams have tried a box-and-one defense to stop her, but her moves to the ball and basket are too good. Said Spannbauer: "You can't take her out of her game."
She is a feisty player, and sometimes opponents take it the wrong way. "You know, a lot of people say I have an attitude problem," she said. "I get called a cheap ballplayer a lot of times because I'm so aggressive. Dave says, 'What can you do? You're a hustler.' "
On Feb. 1, Kellaher's desire to win was perhaps greater than ever, as Catholic defeated third-ranked Division III Scranton, 74-71, in what was considered the biggest win in her four years on the team. To make it a "storybook evening," as Spannbauer described it, Kellaher broke the Cardinals' career scoring mark of 1,349 points, set by Sharon Hodges in 1981.
The record came with 8:09 remaining and Catholic behind, 57-53. Kellaher went to the free throw line, needing one point. She swished the first, her 16th point of the game, gazed toward the heavens and let out a sigh. The game was stopped, and she was given a game ball amid embraces from teammates and coaches.
"I was really relieved," said Kellaher. "I felt like I had a rock on my shoulders. After I made it, I said, 'Thank God it's over with.' "
"It was one of the few times I saw her break down (and cry)," said Spannbauer, who is in his third year as head coach. "But as soon as she caught herself, she wanted to shoot the ball. She wiped her eyes, stood up there and made the free throw. The game was number one to her."
And the game was not over. Kellaher scored on a base line jumper to get the Cardinals even at 57-57, and finished with 25 points.
"I want to win so bad," she said.
Kellaher perhaps could have played at a Division I school, but she doesn't regret going to Catholic. Her freshman year, she played point guard and did not score as much as she wanted. But her sophomore year, Spannbauer's first season, she was moved to shooting guard.
This season, with Catholic having one of its best seasons at 12-7, Kellaher has good players around her, and her offense is flourishing. She has scored more than 30 points in five games, the high being 36 against North Carolina-Greensboro. She also leads the team in assists.
Senior forward Maureen Favo, who has played four years with Kellaher, has seen her develop.
"Her freshman year she would throw up a jumper when nobody was there to rebound," Favo said. "She gave me the prettiest dump (pass) on the fast break yesterday. We play a lot of fast-break offense this year, and she is there."