JUCO transfer wishes she only had more time

Michael Rand

Sarah Cecka played for the first time as a member of the Gophers women’s basketball team on Nov. 26, 1994.
Less than 15 months later, she is preparing to play her last game on Minnesota’s home floor.
The Jordan, Minn., native didn’t attract any offers from Division I schools coming out of high school, so she opted for Anoka Ramsey Community College, a two-year school about 20 miles north of Minneapolis.
She led Anoka Ramsey to the small college national title in 1994 and subsequently earned herself a scholarship to play Division I basketball for the Gophers.
“It was my goal to keep improving and get a chance to play at a higher level,” Cecka said.
The Gophers won their first three Big Ten games in Cecka’s first season and were even ranked in the top 25 for a week. But they faltered down the stretch, losing seven of their last eight games to finish 12-15.
Even though the Gophers dropped off, the 6-foot-3 Cecka enjoyed personal success. She picked up some of the scoring slack left behind when Minnesota great Carol Ann Shudlick graduated. Cecka started 25 of 27 games and averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Those numbers were down from what she averaged at Anoka Ramsey but still good for a first-year Big Ten player.
If she had been a freshman with those numbers, people would have been charting her progress for three more years.
But athletes who transfer from a junior college to a Division I program usually only have two years of eligibility left once they join their new teams. Such is the case for Cecka, a senior, who is playing her last year for Minnesota right after her first.
Sophomores Jaime Ellis and Angie Iverson said Cecka fits in well with the team because she keeps the players loose. Cecka also blends in because there are six sophomores on the team who began playing for the Gophers at the same time she did.
Unlike those six, however, Cecka will not be back next season.
“It seems like I should be here for two more years,” she said. “I’m just getting used to the program, and now I have to leave.”
And leaving now means Cecka probably won’t get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, something the Gophers did the year before she joined the team.
“I feel lucky that I could come here after a good year like (1993-94),” Cecka said. “I hoped that I could help the team keep going. In a way, I’m kind of disappointed in myself.”
Whether her self-disappointment is justified may be another question.
She hasn’t torn up the Big Ten, but she’s been a solid player in her two years. Although Cecka has only started eight games this season, she’s third on the team in scoring. There have been some stretches in games this season where Cecka has literally taken over.
If there’s one knock on her, it’s her lack of confidence, Iverson said.
“She’s all for the team but sometimes she’s hard on herself,” Iverson said. “She doesn’t realize how good she really is. She should have more confidence because she’s a great player.”
Although this year has been a nightmare for the Gophers, Cecka is looking to finish up strong. Minnesota (4-21, 0-15 in the Big Ten) plays its last home game of the season Sunday afternoon against Northwestern before going to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament one week from now.
A loss Sunday would put the Gophers in select company as one of only two teams to finish the Big Ten season without a win. Michigan, with its winless 1993-94 conference season, is the only school with that dubious distinction.