It may not have been a guaranteed lock, but it seemed almost destined that Cara “Moon” Ursin was coming home to win another national championship.
Ursin, the former Destrehan star, a junior on Baylor University’s defending national championship team, and her teammates were cruising along at 28-2 and ranked No. 3 in the nation.
A top seed in the NCAA Tournament all but sealed, Baylor was in prime position to give Ursin an opportunity to play in front of her family and friends in the Women’s Final Four set to begin Friday in New Orleans.
The 28-2 record and No. 3 ranking were numbers that paled to COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down most of the world – including the sports world. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing bring much of society to a halt, the Women’s Final Four was cancelled.
On top of all that, in a cruel irony of fate, Ursin is grieving the loss of her grandmother, Ruby Alexander, who passed away earlier this week after succumbing to the coronavirus.
“My grandmother was everything to me. My backbone. My best friend,” Ursin said. “She was that person we could always count on. She kept everything running and everyone going. She was the closest thing to perfect you can get.”
“I can’t imagine a world without her,” Ursin continued. “My heart will miss her dearly. I will miss her talks, her hugs, her smile. I will miss her cheering me on. I will miss her jokes. I will miss her laugh. I will miss her precious face and I will miss her good, good cooking. I will miss her kindness. I will miss her loving spirit. I will miss every single thing about GramGram. From the smallest things to the biggest.
“She was a blessing to anyone who came in contact with her. I love her to infinity and beyond.”
Although not on the same level, Ursin will miss out on an athletic opportunity because of the coronavirus.
“The Final Four was in New Orleans, my home town. I was going to literally get to play on the biggest platform in front of my friends, in front of my family and the people who had supported me for years and years,” said Ursin. “Just to be back home in this environment, so from a basketball standpoint, that opportunity does not come along a lot. That’s extremely rare and I lost that opportunity.
“I got the opportunity to come back and just be with my family, who I miss incredibly. I miss them every single day. I’m trying to be as positive as I can.”
Angi Butler, who was Ursin’s high school coach at Destrehan when the Lady Wildcats went 35-0 in winning the Class 5A state championship in 2017, said she understands Ursin’s hurt.
“This would be her one and only opportunity she would have to play in front of her fans – not just everybody’s fans, but hers,” said Butler, now a vice-principal at J.B. Martin Middle School. “It was really devastating for me, not just for the seniors who don’t get to experience it, not the juniors who don’t get to experience, but for the ones that are from the state of Louisiana, this was a monumental moment that will break them.
“This is something they will always remember when you look at championships to come. This national championship in Louisiana, in New Orleans, has really, really set them back. I see that it has really saddened her.”
Ursin and her teammates were sitting on an airplane when they found out from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey that the season was over.
“Coach Kim, she told us on the way to the Big XII championship,” recalled Ursin. “We heard it was all over but we were just taking it minute by minute. We were on the runway about to take off and she got on the intercom and she said, ‘we are just going to sit her a little bit. We are going to wait and see. The athletic director is going to call back and let us know.’ At that time, we were like, ‘there’s no way. It’s not possible,’ and we just tried to remain calm.
“About 45 minutes later, she said, ‘it’s cancelled. It’s all cancelled. Call your parents and tell them to go home. Tell them not to come. It’s cancelled. We are not going to the Big XII basketball tournament.’ I was like, ‘wow, this is the part of the season we have been waiting for. This is the part of the season that’s the turning point.’”
Ursin’s thoughts turned to the Baylor seniors.
“For me, it was hard. But my seniors on that team, who put four years into this – and they are great people – and remember looking at them and it broke my heart for them,” said Ursin.
Ursin arrived at Baylor after a stellar career at Destrehan.
During Destrehan’s undefeated run to the state title in 2017, Ursin averaged 27.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 5.6 steals and 4.1 blocks.
Ursin, the only three-time Gatorade Player of the Year in state history, finished her career with 2,901 points while leading Destrehan to a 121-8 mark during her years at the school.
Ursin, Butler and the 201-17 Destrehan girls basketball state championship team will be the subject of an upcoming VSN Louisiana documentary that also will air on Cox Sports Television.
Like most high school stars, the transition to big-time women’s basketball proved to be a big challenge for Ursin.
“The transition from high school to college was tough,” said Ursin.” Even outside basketball, first just establishing myself as an individual and being without my parents, being without my friends and figuring it out on my own.
“On the basketball court, it was hard. You have to work real hard every day and you realize you are going against the best. You have to work hard every day. You think you are working your hardest but you can always get better.”
Ursin appeared in 28 games as a freshman, starting only one game when Baylor visited Nicholls. Ursin scored a season-high 11 points in that game. For the season, she average 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds.
During her sophomore year in which Baylor won the national title, she played in 38 games, again with a single start, and averaged four points and 2.3 rebounds.
Those are numbers she was unaccustomed to in high school.
“As a freshman starting off, getting tough and yelled at and just seeing I couldn’t put the ball in the hole, when that’s what I did my whole life. That was hard,” said Ursin.
Even with her junior season, in which she was averaging 5.1 points and three rebounds per game, came to a premature end, Ursin has been able to keep her career in perspective.
“As a sophomore, I won a national championship and sitting with that on my resume, just thinking, ‘wow, basketball is paying off.’ I’m older and I understand what it means to be in the gym every day and what hard work is. It became a job and the job paid off. To get a national championship so early in my career is a blessing.”