Reflecting on their collegiate careers, it is difficult for the three Utah seniors to describe their time in Salt Lake City without showing some kind of emotion.
Utah is approaching its final two home games of the season, with Senior Night against UCLA set for Sunday. Ciera Dunbar, Ariel Reynolds and Michelle Plouffe each said their time with the Utes has been the greatest part of their lives.
Despite that common theme, each player has had vastly different careers, from the way they started to the different challenges each has faced.
Dunbar’s career began as she anticipated. She had missed much of her final two high school seasons because of a knee injury and realized she would be worked in slowly by the Ute coaching staff. After playing in 28 games her opening season, she suffered yet another knee injury and redshirted her sophomore year. Multiple other injuries have plagued the Elko, Nev. native throughout her time at Utah.
“I did not expect to have all of the injuries, and I did not expect to blow out my knee again,” Dunbar said. “But … I can genuinely say that it has been one of the best times of my life, despite all of the circumstances.”
This season, Dunbar has been one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the Pac-12. She is 15th in the conference with 27 treys made and has a shooting percentage of .361. She claims resiliency learned from her injuries is what helped her the most.
“I wouldn’t say that I didn’t have it before, but I definitely think it has been built on with me being here,” Dunbar said. “Individually, I think we all kind of learned different things as well, and I think that resilience would be one of things that I helped my team with.”
For Reynolds, the Portland, Ore. native began her college career across the country on the junior college level, where she helped Northwest Florida State College to a 23-6 record her sophomore year. She was concerned about making the jump from junior college to Utah, but the sense of family among her teammates helped her settle in sooner than she expected.
“For me, coming from a junior college was a big transfer,” Reynolds said. “But as far as being family-oriented, Utah was more like a family. At the juco [level], it is really small, and you did not have a lot of people to talk to. You did not even really have time to build relationships. But at [Utah], I was able to do it like that. Within two years I felt like I had been here for four.”
Reynolds said being a Ute has taught her to work hard and to earn what she gets. She feels that concentrating on both school and basketball has helped prepare her for life.
“Before, a lot of things were given to me, opportunities, chances, but here I actually had to prove it,” she said. “I have to prove that I want to be in school, that I wanted minutes. I have to actually want it, and I have to work for it instead of it being handed to me. It helps me a lot.”
As for Plouffe, the Canadian’s Ute career has been a stellar one. From game-winning shots and All-American honors to representing Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics, the forward’s résumé is impressive.
As great as the honors have been, Plouffe has remained humble. Even with her star status, some of the hard times Utah has had over the past few years have kept her in check.
“From a basketball point of view, we all come from a high school that was at the top,” Plouffe said. “To have some of the seasons that we have had puts you on the other side. It was motivating for me to put in more work when I got here because I didn’t necessarily have to do it high school.”
After this season ends, Dunbar, Reynolds and Plouffe will go separate ways. Dunbar plans on remaining in Utah and pursuing a career in entertainment marketing. Reynolds aims to move back to the south and use the values she learned at Utah to become a family counselor. Plouffe will continue to hone her skills on the court, as she will prepare for the spring’s WNBA Draft.
Utes head coach Anthony Levrets said he becomes emotional at the end of each season reflecting on what the senior class has meant to his program.
“With every group of kids, at the end of [the year] you always say, ‘Wow, where did the time go?’ ” Levrets said.
“You go through so much together. You win, you lose, you have your tough days, the doldrums in between. It doesn’t end, but it feels like it ends.”