• Heartbreak motivates former Bear

  • It was the pain that tipped Brittany McQuain off.

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  • It was the pain that tipped Brittany McQuain off.
    Last March, the Quinnipiac University forward and 2010 William Chrisman High School graduate sat in a dejected locker room surrounded by heartbroken teammates following a crushing 69-66 defeat to Monmouth in the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament. Until that point, it had been a breakthrough season for the Bobcats. With a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, they finished 22-10 and 13-5 in conference – their best marks since the 2007-08 season.
    But in the season’s final weeks, the new expectations started to crush the Bobcats as they dropped four of their final five games, including a 75-60 defeat to Temple in the first round of the WNIT.
    A season later, Quinnipiac is 15-2 and has won its first six conference games. The Bobcats are in good position to make a run at the program’s first regular-season NEC championship since the 1984-85 season and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1986.
    McQuain’s been a critical part of that rise.
    The junior is averaging 11.5 points per game and hauling down 8.1 rebounds per outing for the Connecticut college. Last week, she was named the NEC Player of the Week after posting 21 points and 10 boards in a 74-45 victory over defending league regular-season champion Sacred Heart and followed that up with a 12-point, 13-rebound effort in an 85-62 triumph at Bryant.
    While she and her teammates survived last season’s buzzkill, she says they definitely haven’t forgotten. That might be the reason they’re so driven this year.
    “This all started at the end of last year,” McQuain said, “when we lost in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament after having such a great year. I’ve just never sat in a locker room and seen so many players just heartbroken. That’s when you really started to realize how much this means to everyone.”
    There’s also no doubt about what the Bobcats’ goals are. On Monday, Quinnipiac was in the process of dismantling conference powerhouse St. Francis (Pa.). The Bobcats built a 20-point lead, but St. Francis rallied, eventually cutting the margin to three. During a frantic timeout, senior Shelby Sferra shouted at her teammates to listen to the chants coming from the St. Francis bench.
    “Three rings! Three rings,” was the refrain, referring to St. Francis’ three consecutive NEC Tournament titles. That struck a chord with McQuain.
    “(Sferra) was just so emotional,” McQuain said. “She was like almost crying. And I’m a very emotional person myself. I’m the type of person who cries even if I just see my teammates crying, no matter what it’s about.”
    Quinnipiac recovered and secured an impressive 85-69 road victory that helped the Bobcats establish a two-game lead in the conference race.
    Page 2 of 2 - McQuain said she’s never played on a team so singularly focused on winning a championship. And it’s hard to imagine the Bobcats reaching this level of success without McQuain, said Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri.
    The former Examiner Player of the Year’s game has matured year after year, Fabbri said. She’s always been a solid post defender and scorer, but Fabbri said this year she’s seen McQuain grow more comfortable using her left hand and develop the ability to consistently hit a 10- to 12-foot jumper.
    “Her ability to face the bucket and knock down a foul-line jumper has just exploded,” Fabbri said. “That’s really made her versatile and not just predictable. She’s improved her all-around game and is not just one-dimensional, which is so important and critical to have when you want to win a championship.”
    While McQuain, who is majoring in health science and hopes to attend graduate school at Quinnipiac, is still a junior, her leadership role is magnified on a squad with only three seniors. It helps that this is pretty much old hat for her since she’s started for three years.
    “She’s just been strong, calm and confident,” Fabbri said. “Last year, if she missed a shot, it would carry over into the next play of the game. ... But there’s been that growth in channeling her disappointment.”
    In games, McQuain might be able to let go of personal shortcomings in an instant. But there’s one disappointment she and her teammates aren’t willing to let go of. There’s still that vivid image of a glum locker room from last March that no one can shake.
    But the Bobcats aren’t allowing that to fester. Instead, they’re using it to motivate.
    “Honestly, it’s something we talk about every day,” McQuain said. “Really it’s something we use to push us and remind us that that’s a feeling we never want to experience again.”

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