"I want to start by thanking each and every one of y'all. I chose (Texas Tech) because I'd never been to a program or seen a program that had fans like y'all, and that are supportive like y'all. Y'all make Lady Raider Basketball what it is," said senior Cisti Greenwalt Saturday night.
Tech's starting center is the sole senior member of a 21-5 team boasting a 12-3 conference record after beating Oklahoma State University 65-53 in the last home game of the year.
"I think it's one of the best things about being at Texas Tech," Greenwalt said. "The arena, and the fans, and having that many people who support you, every game, day in and day out, no matter how you play."
"I don't think it's really hit me until now. It's going to be really hard," she said, struggling for words and fighting back tears; recovering her poise, she added, "to step off and not ever play here again … but I've had a great career, and a great coach, who's taught me a lot of things, and hopefully I can take it to a different level with the things I've learned here."
Considering that she came to Tech four years ago as the best women's basketball player in New Mexico, and arguably the best in New Mexico history, Greenwalt has set no small goal. She wouldn't: as a junior, she set a new school record for blocked shots, and she isn't through setting a new conference record for them yet. Greenwalt currently leads her team in scoring and rebounding as well as blocked shots.
In the Big 12 Conference, tall girls abound – but few can match either Greenwalt's intensity or her poise, whether she faces a microphone or an oncoming opponent. In the Big 12, Greenwalt's defensive rebounding is second only to Kendra Wecker of Kansas State University; in total rebounds, Wecker is first, Baylor's Sophia Young second, and Greenwalt third. Her field goal accuracy is also third, behind teammate LaToya Davis and Young; Greenwalt's .760 free-throw accuracy is among the top 10, and her overall scoring a highly respectable 13th, in the league.
"Knowing that's the last time I'll walk off in this uniform and be playing in such an awesome arena," she said, "No matter what level I play, I'll never play in front of fans or in a stadium that is awesome like this."
Her remarkable reserve -- Greenwalt conducts herself with a businesslike grace -- may be a result of the obstacles she has overcome off the court this year as much as the maturity of her basketball skills. In February 2004 Greenwalt broke her ankle, and the injury required surgical repair; scarcely had doctors cleared her for full practice when a spot on her back was diagnosed as melanoma. Its removal ensued, followed by chemotherapy, in July; in August a rollover accident that totaled her automobile left her in a Lubbock intensive care unit, suffering from bruised lungs. Through it all, she persevered.
"It's not going to end here," she said. "I have a lot more games to play, like Coach Sharp said, and hopefully we'll be able to take it to the Final Four this year."
Lady Raider head coach Marsha Sharp said, "I told her when she walked off the floor tonight that we still have a lot of basketball to play.
"She's done a lot of special things, particularly until this year, on the defensive end – we've used her as someone that just controlled the paint for us," Sharp said. "She's probably the best shot blocker that I've ever watched play in the women's game. She just has such great timing. She does it without fouling, and that's something that she's learned to do better as she's gone through her career.
"This time she's really become a person that we expect to have a double-double every time we play. You get that kind of energy on both ends of the court with her," she said "The kinds of things that she's given us offensively in a lot of games in the Big 12 have given us a chance to win."
Greenwalt introduced her parents, grandparents and brother, whom she credited for her achievements, at the "Run and Gun" interview after the game. She had received a standing ovation when she left the game with a few seconds remaining – fitting tribute to the best shot blocker in school history.
"Just being a six-five presence, and being able to block shots, it kind of makes them think a little bit before they come in the paint, knowing I'm just kind of standing back there waiting," she said, recovering her poise further in response to a question about a particular play during the game. "It's kind of a cool feeling, that they're kind of second-guessing themselves before they want to come in there and shoot a lay-up."
During "Run and Gun," Sharp said, "I really believe she'll have a chance to play this summer in the WNBA, and we'll just have to follow her a little bit farther away.
"She's first in the Big 12 and about 2nd or 3rd in the nation in blocked shots, and she's really become a prolific shot blocker," she said. "I probably have never enjoyed watching a player block shots and, on the defensive end, make the other team alter offenses as much as what she's done, particularly this year. We talked about that a little bit, and it's not necessarily the shots she blocks, it's sometimes the shots that people are afraid to take."