If you saw highlights of New Mexico State women’s basketball team’s Western Athletic Conference tournament title game victory, Lacey native Sasha Weber became the unofficial trophy holder when cameras panned around for postgame celebration shots.
And naturally, there were some all-too-candid shots, including one of Weber with her head down fidgeting with her cellphone. Text messages had flooded in but she didn't peek at them; instead, she was uploading photos and video to share with friends, family and fans via SnapChat, a social media app.
Capturing the memories of New Mexico State’s history-making game — the NCAA bid is the school’s first since 1988 — for herself and teammates were just as important as sharing them with others who supported them in getting there, said Weber, a 2012 Timberline High School graduate.
“I wanted to document it,” she said about the team’s 70-52 victory over Texas-Pan American in which she scored 20 points. “It’s a lot to do with our fans and the support system back home.”
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The Aggies’ reward for winning last Saturday in Las Vegas is a No. 16 seed in the West Region and a date with No. 1 seed Maryland Saturday (10:30 a.m. PST, ESPN2) in College Park, Maryland, in the first round.
For Weber and her teammates, the road to the Big Dance is something that’s been “an unbelievable feeling,” particularly after an 0-5 start in November and previous seasons of mediocrity.
“I didn’t imagine this being the result at the beginning of the season,” said Weber. “This is really happening.”
New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh already puts the 21-year-old Weber, a 6-foot guard, in elite status with her senior season still ahead of her. He says she’s one of the top all-around players he’s coached and one of the all-time greats to play for the Aggies.
The statistics back it up. Weber ranks 19th in career scoring (1,123 points, going over the 1,000 barrier in a Feb. 12 win at Seattle University) and is second for career 3-pointers made (188). More than the numbers, Trakh said, is Weber’s composure, which allows her to take over a game.
“She will be in the New Mexico State Hall of Fame some day,” Trakh said. “When she leaves as a senior, the program will be better than when she found it.”
Trakh remembers he and assistant coach Aarika Hughes sitting in Weber’s Lacey home during a recruiting trip in 2011 and trying to persuade her to come to Las Cruces. He did not promise conference championships or NCAA tournament appearances. What he promised was an opportunity to change the direction of the program, which had just three winning seasons in the past 18.
The challenge was something Weber could relate to. Her junior year at Timberline, the Blazers had their best season in girls basketball, going 23-2, winning a league title and qualifying for state for the first time.
And being a trailblazer and part of an up-and-coming college program was a selling point, too. The recruiting class Weber joined was ranked in the top 20 nationally for mid-majors, according to ESPN Hoopgurlz.
“(Coach Trakh) told me it wasn’t going to be easy, but he always talked about hope and keeping hope alive,” said Weber, who was The Olympian’s 2011-12 all-area girls basketball player of the year and Timberline’s all-time leading scorer (1,503 career points).
“We sold (the incoming recruiting class), ‘This is what can happen if we get you,’ ” Trakh recalled. “She had done (the turnaround) in high school ... and she helped turn this program around.”
It’s been a gradual climb toward success for Weber. She started as a freshman and sophomore and the result were two seasons where the team finished with more losses than wins.
This season looked even worse, but that outlook began to change on Dec. 4 when the Aggies beat Eastern New Mexico, 79-51, behind Weber’s 23 points.
That victory started a run that has seen New Mexico State win 22 of 24 games and win its first regular-season conference championship since 1995. Weber, who was a first-team all-WAC selection after averaging a team-high 15 points per game, was never better in the title game, draining 5 of 8 3-pointers vs. Texas-Pan American.
The Aggies (22-7) carry a six-game winning streak in into Saturday’s game against the heavily-favored Terrapins (30-2). Weber said the team is confident and has the mindset that winning teams need.
And while her memories of this special season are already secure and well-documented, she wouldn’t mind making a few more.
“We’re not playing timid and not playing scared,” Weber said. “This is pretty surreal.”