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Worst to First, Part 3: An Oral History of the Road to K-State WBB's 2007-08 Big 12 Championship

January 24, 2018
By Corbin McGuire

With a new offense — called Cougar — the 2007-08 K-State women’s basketball team entered Big 12 play on an absolute tear. The Wildcats downed two ranked opponents on the road in Texas A&M — snapping the Aggies’ 26-game home winning streak — and Texas en route to a 7-0 start to conference play, part of a 10-game winning streak overall.
The run was capped off by a pair of exciting finishes, a 68-63 victory at No. 14 Oklahoma State and a 77-75 win at Nebraska in the game’s final seconds to end the Huskers’ 12-game home winning streak.

In part three of this series, five Wildcats from the 2007-08 team, celebrating its 10th anniversary, recall the final stages of that season and how that group of Wildcats became the first Power Five team, male or female, to win a regular season conference championship after finishing last the season before. (To read part one, click here. For part two, click here.)

K-State guard Shalee Lehning (2005-09): At Oklahoma State, the arena itself just makes you feel like the people are sitting on top of you. It’s so loud. There’s thousands of fans. It was one of those games where we refused to lose. The previous season, we were always on the opposite end, it just wasn’t enough and we would lose. I feel like the tables had completely turned.

K-State guard Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz (2004-08): After we won that one, I was, like, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this thing.’ After that game I remember walking back to the locker room with Coach (Kamie) Etheridge. We both looked at each other, like, ‘We’re going to do this.’ I think we even said that out loud. We were all gelling so well, but playing at Oklahoma State is always, always tough. The fact that we went down there and we were able to win, that, for me, I think was probably the point where I realized we can do this.

K-State forward Marlies Gipson (2005-09): Nebraska was always one of our rivals. If I think back to that game, emotions were just high at all times. It was just a back-and-forth game.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: That was another tough game, kind of like Wyoming the previous year where the environment’s kind of hostile. Before that game, along the sideline seats, there were some ladies and a couple of guys taunting us on the sidelines. They were older people, and it was kind of out there, like, ‘OK, this is women’s basketball. You guys are treating this really, really crazy,’ because they were yelling at us. I think at one point I was just looking at the crowd, like, ‘Are you serious?’

K-State guard/forward Danielle Zanotti (2005-09): Any time in Lincoln was nuts. They’re like Wyoming. Their fans are so into it, and that’s a real factor.

Shalee Lehning: Coach (Deb) Patterson got ejected (in the second half), which was crazy. I still to this day don’t think she deserved to get ejected but she did.

K-State forward Ashley (Miller) Sweat (2006-10): She watched the game from the concession stand because there was a TV there.

Danielle Zanotti: I remember that one moment of us looking at each other, like, ‘Oh, crap.’ Then there was a timeout and Coach Etheridge, I swear to goodness she rubs her hands together like a kid in a candy story and she has all the confidence in the world that she’s got this and we’ve got this.

Shalee Lehning: We all looked at her and, I’m not kidding, I feel like the entire bench just had a sigh of relief.

Marlies Gipson: She just took it over and we didn’t change our game plan at all.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: It worked perfect.

Shalee Lehning: There was no ounce of fear or, ‘We can’t do this.’ And then Ashley Sweat steps up.

Danielle Zanotti: Ashley hit some sort of nutty shot (with less than 10 seconds left) to win.

Shalee Lehning: That shot was incredible. I still remember seeing her use a little hesitation on the right side, the defense totally bit on her hesitation and she goes on and finishes right at the rim to put us up.

Marlies Gipson: I’m thinking that was off Cougar, too.

Ashley (Miller) Sweat: I remember that for a couple of reasons. Coach P got ejected. I made the game-winning shot and the boys beat KU at home that night. Michael Beasley was there that year and they beat KU at home, so it was a good night, overall.

Marlies Gipson: That was a good bus ride back.




K-State’s incredible 7-0 start to conference play, which still stands as the program’s best opening stretch in the Big 12, ended at home vs. Baylor (63-49) to put the Wildcats a game back of the Bears in the standings. The Wildcats bounced back with three wins in a row and took a half-game lead in the Big 12 when Baylor lost to Texas. The view from the top became short-lived, however, after the Wildcats dropped consecutive games to No. 11 Oklahoma (68-65) at home and at Colorado (73-68). 


Shalee Lehning: Oklahoma, that was definitely a tough loss.

Marlies Gipson: God, OU, I never beat them.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: Obviously, Oklahoma’s always a tough team to play, so that one was a really tough game. For me, in particular, I think going down to Colorado, which is my hometown in Boulder, that one really made me mad, losing down there. That one was hard. A lot of people came to watch. My high school coach did and a bunch of my friends and family. That one was tough for me to swallow.

Shalee Lehning: I remember right when the (Colorado) game ended, confetti came from the ceiling. It was like this huge win for them. That was kind of rattling.

Ashley (Miller) Sweat: I remember knowing when we lost, we could’ve just lost the Big 12.

Shalee Lehning: I don’t think there was ever an ounce of panic going on. Our coaches did a great job keeping our minds focused on the next game. We weren’t focused on winning a Big 12 title. That was our goal and, of course, that was what we were working toward. We wanted that more than anything, but we knew it took one game at a time. We had overcome adversity. We had overcome losses. When things looked bleak before, we fought through that and found a way. It was just another strike of adversity that we had to overcome.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: That was a little tough to lose those two games. I think after that we knew what we were capable of, so it was easy to get our chins back up and back to the grind.

While the two losses dropped the Wildcats out of a tie for first place, they recovered by topping Nebraska (69-65) and dominating Missouri (81-52). And thanks to a Texas A&M win over Baylor, the Wildcats were back in a tie for first with only one regular season match-up left: at Kansas on March 5, 2008. Win, and the Wildcats would be Big 12 Champions.

Shalee Lehning: That is a day that I will always remember. Growing up a Kansas girl, I seriously considered going to Kansas. So any time we went to KU there was a lot of pride in that game.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: Everyone knew what was on the line. We knew we had come so far and we had been playing so well the whole year. We had beaten some great teams. We weren’t going to let this game stand in our way. It wasn’t going to happen.

Shalee Lehning; Honestly, I feel like it’s a storybook ending for us. Not only did we have a chance to win the title but we got a chance to do it against our rival. I feel like it was just a script that now you look back and smile. It was really one of those moments that you dream of as a kid. When I came to Kansas State, I chose that school because I believed we’d be winning championships. To be in that position really was a dream come true in so many ways.

Marlies Gipson: Starting the game, I remember our fans were amazing. It was all purple. Running out of the tunnel and seeing that, that just lit a fire.

Shalee Lehning: I remember going into it there was a lot of focus. There was not a lot of talk about not winning the championship. That was just an understood expectation. But I think this is what championship teams are built on. We just had a laser-like focus on doing our job, and it was the next game. Naturally, there were a lot of nerves going into that game, but there was also a confidence from our team and from our coaching staff that we had prepared for this. We were not surprised to be in that spot. That was our goal all year. It was a very mission-in-mind focus for us.

Danielle Zanotti: Every shot, there was that feeling in your stomach of, ‘We’re one play closer. We’re one play closer.’ No other game had this same feeling.

Ashley (Miller) Sweat: I remember feeling really confident. Toward the end of the game, it was pretty close but I remember feeling as the time was winding down, even though it was close, that we had it under control.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz: That game was super, super tough. Shalee Lehning balled out and had 29 points. She definitely led that game and pushed us home for the (61-50) win.

Shalee Lehning: I remember running around the gym and the celebration in the locker room. I still get the goose bumps when I watch a highlight tape or see that celebration in the locker room. It’s still very vivid and a moment I truly believe I’ll never forget.

Marlies Gipson: That will be something I remember for the rest of my life. When that trophy came in, we could breath.

Danielle Zanotti: To get to celebrate that… we’re 30 years old now and it’s still one of my favorite memories. I still have pictures up in my house of it. It’s basketball, but it’s so much more than that.

With its win at Kansas, K-State clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title, completing an incredible journey from worst to first from the previous season. When Baylor lost to Oklahoma State the next day, the Wildcats were all alone at the top with the program’s first solo Big 12 championship and second overall. It was but a small caveat in a season that represented more than any celebration, trophy or postseason honor could, as the relationships and bonds developed still hold strong 10 years later.

Ashley (Miller) Sweat (married in Lincoln, Nebraska, working part time as a physician’s assistant, and due to have her second child in February): We’re all still really close and I think we will be forever. I don’t ever see that changing. We were just a really, really tightknit group. I still keep in touch with a lot of our practice players.

Danielle Zanotti (in her final year of receiving a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Tulsa): We had three players — Kari (Miller) Kincaid, Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz and Ashley (Miller) Sweat — all have babies within about a month-and-a-half span of each other. We had a triple baby shower for them in Manhattan, and then we all got back together last year for a triple first birthday party for all of them. It’s fun to get to continue to celebrate and cheer each other on in really deep and meaningful ways that I know are going to keep us connected for the rest of our lives.

Kimberly (Sauber) Dietz (vice president for BD4 Distributing in Manhattan; married to K-State men’s basketball athletic trainer Luke Sauber): I’m so happy I chose Kansas State for my school to go to because the people I met are amazing and great people with great hearts. I think it’s a lot of fun now because we’re all getting older and going our separate ways. Some of us are even having kids now, so even being able to follow that and share our stories as mothers is a lot of fun. It’s a different bond than you have with any of your other friends because you’ve gone through so much together — blood, sweat and tears type stuff. Even just talking to Ashley or Kari about being moms, it’s fun and it’s encouraging because you’re, like, ‘OK, if they can do it, I can do it.’

Shalee Lehning (an academic coordinator at the University of Wyoming): The bonds we got to form and share are very rare and unique. The fact that we’ve stayed in touch, again, I think that’s part of why we were successful is we really, genuinely enjoyed each other. We really didn’t have to deal with what a lot of teams dealt with, of a lot of egos and a lot of jealousy and a lot of girl drama. This was a team that built friendships. This was a team that loved hanging out and spending time with each other off the court, and I think it’s rare. I knew it was rare then, but I feel like I have a greater appreciation now as we’ve grown into women that have gotten married and started families or are pursuing doctorates or whatever all of our girls are doing, to still stay in touch, to be able to come back and reminisce.

Marlies Gipson (a fourth-grade teacher at Fort Riley who coaches eighth grade girls basketball; engaged to K-State rowing assistant coach Hanna Wiltfong): We will be lifelong friends forever and it was the sport of basketball. I don’t have any sisters but I definitely gained sisters and best friends, and I think everyone feels the same way.

K-State 2007-08 WBB Roster

Kimberly Dietz
Shana Wheeler
Carolyn McCullough
Kelsey Nelson
Ashley Sweat
Shalee Lehning
Kelsey Hill
Shalin Spani
Danielle Zanotti
Kari Kincaid
Marlies Gipson



We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Corbin McGuire, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.


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