The Lady Toppers played with heavy hearts on Wednesday night as they honored former player Cacie Pope, who lost a lengthy battle with brain cancer on Sunday.
The players wore “CP 54” patches on their jerseys, and a moment of silence was recognized in Diddle Arena before the start of Western’s game against Arkansas State.
A video tribute was also shown before the game highlighting Pope’s 14-point, 11-rebound effort against No. 11 Vanderbilt in 2004.
Senior guard Kenzie Rich said the team had seen the video beforehand, but that didn’t make it any easier when it was shown to the Diddle crowd.
“We’re going to be emotional every time we see it,” Rich said. “Cacie — she’s just a great person. We knew we were going to watch the video, and we tried to not let that affect us.”
Senior forward Arnika Brown said the emotions of Pope’s passing were hard to subside during the game itself.
“I was trying to get it together, and (junior guard) Amy (McNear) looked at me and said, ‘You need to just play. We still have a game to play,’” Brown said. “I just took that and started playing. It was just emotional.”
Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles, who Pope had previously called a “second mother,” became emotional during her postgame press conference as she talked about the tributes.
“It was just something we needed to do, but it was a lot more difficult to do it, even though you knew you needed to do it, and you knew Cacie deserved it,” Cowles said. “But that’s not a really fun way to start a basketball game.”