Oct. 11, 2012
First Practice Photo Gallery
All good things must come to an end. For Marissa Kastanek Thursday afternoon marks the beginning of her final season with NC State when practice officially gets underway for the Wolfpack women's basketball team at Reynolds Coliseum.
Though it seems just yesterday that she was thrilling fans as a bright-eyed freshman, the Lincoln, Neb., native has enjoyed three good seasons with the Pack, but is ready for more as her senior campaign has finally arrived.
"It's weird. It's really exciting. It's one of those feelings like 'Wow, this has gone so fast," but then I look back on all the memories I had from freshman year until now and I've experienced so much and met so many people.
"It's been a great experience, and I'm excited at the same time. I'm not ready to go, but I'm ready to start my senior year."
Kastanek and her classmates have worked extremely hard since the end of last year to prepare for the 2012-13 season. However, in an ironic twist, despite being a historically hard worker - both in practice and on game day - she will miss the opening week of "official" practice for the second-straight year.
Last season she was in the middle of being the team captain for the U.S. Pan Am Games team in Mexico. This time around she had her tonsils taken out last week and will miss about two weeks.
"I obviously didn't plan to do it this way," said Kastanek, "But I guess for my tonsils being taken out, we figure now is better than [in] December, or January."
The Wolfpack enjoyed an up-and-down campaign in 2011-12. Highlights included wins over a ranked Vanderbilt club in December, and a victory over top-seeded Duke in the ACC Tournament.
But losses like the season finale to Appalachian State in the third round of the Postseason WNIT did not sit well with Kastanek and her program mates.
Kastanek has been bestowed the honor of being team captain now that she is a senior. It is something she doesn't take lightly.
"With this team it means a lot to [be their captain], and particularly more than any other time being captain of a team," explained Kastanek.
"Being a captain on the Pan-Am team was a big honor, and I hold that near and dear to my heart, but this [is] NC State and that means so much more than just the title.
"I grew up here, starting as a freshman, watching those seniors, and just waiting for my time and learning from every little thing that they do, to my sophomore year; to my junior year; and now that it's finally my turn, I can take that step forward and I can do everything that I learned from my previous teammates."
There seems to be a different air about this team as apposed to recent years. Maybe its the return of nine players from last season, including starters Kastanek, Kody Burke and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman. Maybe its the infusion of talent the club is getting from transfers Len'Nique Brown (Southern California) and Markeisha Gatling (junior college).
But there is certainly no doubt in Kastanek's mind that she can't wait to get the 39th season of NC State women's basketball underway.
"I'm looking forward to playing with my teammates. I'm really excited this year. It's a great group of girls. We have a lot of good chemistry going on right now - a lot of fun stuff that we're doing in the locker room [and] on the court.
"We're really clicking as a team right now, and I'm really excited for this year with them."
The Atlantic Coast Conference is always a very competitive league, and that will be no different this season. Elite Eight teams like Duke and Maryland will likely find themselves near the top of the standings, but there seems to be an opportunity for the Wolfpack to improve on last season's ninth place finish.
"I really think we have a group of kids that can get up and down really quick, and also play together," said Kastanek.
"We don't have that one standout player who's going to make things happen. We have a team. We have a Wolfpack that [is] coming together, and you're not going to be going at one player when you play us. You're going to be going at the whole Pack when you play us."
The one thing that Kastanek wants more than anything is a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The only player on the team that has played in the "Big Dance," she wants to enjoy that ride with this club.
"I want to get back so bad," emphasized Kastanek. "I want these girls to experience what it's like to go there.
"None of these girls have experienced what I've experienced. They don't understand right now. Everybody can say they want to go, but they have no idea what a special treatment it is to go to the NCAA Tournament, and I want them to feel that.
"You get off a bus and there's hundreds of people there cheering you on just because you made it to this tournament, and I really want to do it for them."
With all her accolades on the court, Kastanek has been even more successful in the classroom. Named an Academic All-American for the first time last year, as well as the ACC Women's Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year, Kastanek carries a perfect 4.0 grade-point-average and ranks No. 1 in her psychology major among over 5,000 students at NC State.
For head coach Kellie Harper she can't think of a more ideal student-athlete than what she has received from Kastanek since stepping foot on campus in 2009.
"I think Marissa has been a very good player for me," said Harper. "I think she fits me. I think having her out there, you know what you're going to get with her. She's always going to play hard. She's constantly trying to get better. She's super competitive. She's just been such a great ambassador for this team and the university."
No one can predict how this season will unfold for the Wolfpack, but one thing for sure is that it will be Kastanek's last at NC State, and she will do whatever she can to make this team successful.