- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Iowa State had just finished pounding Kansas on Saturday, and Cyclones guard Lyndsey Medders was lamenting the fact that she'd had six turnovers and missed two free throws.
Never mind it was a 27-point victory, or that she had 12 points, five assists and four rebounds. Or, as Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said of Medders, "No matter what, she's the one who makes things happen."
I knew what Medders was thinking: "What if I make those mistakes in a two-point game?"
There are some players who, even from the time they are freshmen, always put things in context of the big picture. That's because they can always see the big picture. It's never just about this one game, it's about how every game fits together in the mosaic of how the season turns out.
It's how some athletes are wired; how they take responsibility for everything that goes on with their team. Medders, though, is on the extreme end: She would feel responsible if a fan at Hilton Coliseum got a glass of flat soda from the concession stand at halftime.
Actually, I think they usually say "pop" in Iowa , but where I grew up in Missouri, "pop" was a noise or your father, not anything you drank. However, I've had Iowa friends tell me that "soda" is only something that has ice cream in it. We'll debate this stuff until the end of time.
Medders is not an Iowan or a Missourian. She's not a Midwesterner of any kind. She's a Californian, born in Santa Monica, and went to high school in Los Angeles. She had to get used to all of us here in Flyover Country -- the Iowans, Missourians, Nebraskans, Kansans and Oklahomans and our various quirks. (Heck, some people say, "soda pop.")
She had to adjust to tractors on the road and cold that takes your breath away and vistas of miles of dead cornstalks.
Guess what happened? She appreciates it all. That's another kind of vision, actually. Not everybody could see the beauty of a farm pond when they've grown up next to the Pacific Ocean.
Plus, Medders ended up having all of "our" best Midwestern qualities -- in particular friendliness, approachability, willingness to talk to strangers for no other reason than it's a nice thing to do -- and none of our worst.
I think Cyclones fans love Medders all the more because of where she's from. She chose not only to come to play for their school, but also to be that person they all want their sports heroes to be.
Medders arrived in Ames the season after another Lindsey (though spelled differently) from the West Coast had been coach Bill Fennelly's extension on the court. Seattle 's Lindsey Wilson had a frustrating senior season in 2003, as the Cyclones got caught in a down cycle during a particularly strong season for the rest of the Big 12. They had their only losing record under Fennelly that year.
Then it was Medders' turn to be the player Fennelly yelled at the most during games, aka the player he trusted the most. But this was one of the reasons Medders came to Iowa State in the first place. She was fully prepared to be that player.
The Cyclones made the WNIT her freshman season, got back to the NCAA Tournament when she was a sophomore and were in the WNIT again last year, when she played despite a broken foot and an aching back.
Through all this, Medders wasn't just playing basketball but was constantly reaching out to the Iowa State community. Back in California, Rhiannon Potkey did a nice story in the "Ventura County Star" in late December, detailing how Medders made time for so many people in Iowa: little kids and older folks and everyone in between.
This season, she's averaging 13.2 points and 6.3 assists; with 628, she's already Iowa State's career assists leader.
But on the night of Jan. 13, Medders could not sleep at all. The big picture was keeping her miserably awake.
The Cyclones had just lost their third game in a row. This latest defeat had been at home to Oklahoma State , a program that went 0-16 last season in the Big 12 and had lost 26 consecutive conference road games.
The Cowgirls have definitely upgraded in talent this season, but still Medders worried that it was all slipping away in this last season and wondered if she'd get another shot at the NCAA Tournament.
"It was maybe the lowest point of my basketball career," Medders said of how she felt that night. "It was painful, how I saw my senior year unfolding.
"But I was given a really good book called, 'The Inner Game of Tennis.' It talks a lot about not mentally beating yourself up. Because I think last year I tried to put this team on my shoulders, and this year there are more people who can step up. I shouldn't try to do everything every possession."
The book she references was first published in 1972, and at that time author Timothy Gallwey was writing about things that really weren't much-discussed at any level in athletics. It was cutting edge then, before the avalanche of sports psychologists and self-help books. His book made a lot of sense then, though, and it's still just as relevant now.
But still, a book can only do so much to help when you're 21, and like Captain Hook, you get that panicking feeling when you think you hear a clock ticking. The crocodile that's chasing you, though, is the knowledge that the end of college is coming, and you want so much not to let that overshadow the time you have left.
What a conundrum that is for these kids we watch go through it year after year, always made worse when things aren't going well for their team on the court. So Medders was battling all that in her head and wondering what was happening with her team and knowing that next up for the Cyclones was a visit from Texas.
If that wasn't a do-or-die game for Iowa State, it was the next closest thing.
"I think what we did was we all talked about it, tried to analyze it, tried to fix it," Medders said. "Was it this person, that person, what was wrong? And at the end of the day, it was just time for everyone to just shut up and play."
Iowa State beat Texas 67-56. The road to recovery appeared to have begun. Then came the win at Kansas. Medders was named Big 12 Player of the Week, an honor quite incidental to her, I'm sure. She didn't try to do it all for her team, but she did more than enough.
On Wednesday, the Cyclones hit the Big 12's brick wall, which is named "Oklahoma." They lost in Norman but now head home, where they will play five of their next seven games. It's still a long journey to make the NCAA Tournament field, but Iowa State is clearly going to give it a good go.
However, no matter what happens in March, Medders should always remember last week. The real triumphs for athletes are most about overcoming things that they will face in other avenues of life, long after the games are over. Fear and doubt and uncertainty and searching for a drop of optimism in a well that appears dry.
This defines Lyndsey Medders: When everything seemed bleak, the California girl with the heart of a true Iowan helped pull her team back into daylight.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.