When Linda Lappe was hired as the head coach of the Colorado women's basketball team, she spoke about a desire to return the Buffaloes to the NCAA Tournament.
It's been nearly two years since she was introduced as the head coach on April 12, 2010. CU has not yet made it to the NCAA Tournament, but Lappe has the Buffs much closer today than they were two years ago.
"We are headed in the right direction," she said. "I think this year was a big step in going in the right direction."
Realistically, Lappe knew getting CU to The Dance wouldn't be an overnight process. She took over a program coming off a 13-17 season, which was preceded by an 11-18 season. In fact, in the six years before Lappe was hired, CU was 74-107 with five losing seasons.
"I really thought the first two years, if we could get to the postseason, WNIT, that was going to be a huge step for us," Lappe said.
Two years in, Lappe certainly seems to have the ship righted. CU went 21-14 this season -- its best win total since going 22-8 in 2003-04 -- and made a second consecutive run to the WNIT quarterfinals.
"I feel like we've made major strides in the two years that she's been here," junior forward Meagan Malcolm-Peck said. "You can always be happy with your season if you keep improving. The last five games, our team definitely kept improving and was happy to have some kind of postseason play, at least."
This season, the Buffaloes saw a standout player (Chucky Jeffery) emerge as a star player; a pair of sophomores (Brittany Wilson and Ashley Wilson) grow into and excel in their roles; and a trio of freshmen (Lexy Kresl, Jen Reese and Jasmine Sborov) go from wide-eyed newcomers to valuable contributors.
Senior Julie Seabrook also became a remarkable leader for a young team that desperately needed one.
"It's going to be a challenge for us to replace some of the things that Julie brought," Lappe said. "Her attitude, her communication and her love for wanting to get better."
Overall, from Game 1 to Game 35, the Buffaloes did exactly what coaches wanted them to do: they got better.
"It's night and day," Lappe said. "Sometimes I go back and look at the first game and see the difference in our team. I like how we ended and when you end like we did you can feel good going into the (offseason) and you really build on what you accomplished."
It wasn't a perfect season, by any means, although it started out that way. The Buffs began 12-0 for just the third time in program history, and for the first time since 1992-93. They followed that, however, by winning just four of their next 16 games before finishing 5-2 in the last seven.
Along the way, the Buffs lost too many at home (12-6), but learned how to win on the road (9-8). The Buffs hadn't won more than four games away from Boulder since 2003-04.
"That was an important step for us to take this season," Lappe said.
CU has improved in other areas, as well, since Lappe took over. CU's average attendance (2,679) increased by 879 fans per game this year. The Buffs also signed a recruiting class that, in November, was ranked No. 20 in the country by ESPN.com's HoopGurlz.
"(Two years ago) I thought if we could increase our recruiting and increase our attendance, those were going to be two things that were going to help us down the road and we did both of those," Lappe said.
Now it's time for another step. Seabrook is the only player from this year's team that graduates and with a top-20 recruiting class coming in, it stands to reason that the Buffs will be better in 2012-13.
How much better?
"I definitely think we should go to the NCAA Tournament and do very well in the Pac-12," Malcolm-Peck said.
"Everybody -- players and coaches -- have in mind what the end goal is and it's trying to get better every year and we're not satisfied yet."
Lappe said her ultimate plan was to get better every year. Her Buffs have done that and she said, "I feel good as we go into the future."
Yet, if one year from now the Buffs are talking about another great WNIT run, Malcolm-Peck said that will be a disappointment.
"(The NCAA Tournament) is where everyone wants to go and I think everyone is going to push hard to get there," she said. "I don't think we want to look at the option of not."