The Louisville Cardinals' women's basketball team has a chance to deliver another national championship for the school just one day after the men won the NCAA tournament.
Facing the perennial powerhouse that is the University of Connecticut in the final will be a formidable challenge, but Native American sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel will undoubtedly do all they can to will the Cardinals to victory.
An improbable run to this stage as the No. 5 seed was highlighted by a stirring 82-81 victory over the top-seeded and Brittney Griner-led Baylor Bears, when Shoni scored a team-high 22 points to lead the Cardinals to the regional final.
The innate chemistry between the junior and her sophomore sister has been a big part of Louisville's success all season long. But while both are now prominent members of a major women's college basketball program, Shoni and Jude came from humble beginnings on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Mission, Ore., per USA Today's Kelly Whiteside.
When she was a junior in high school, Shoni was the subject of a documentary entitled Off the Rez, as she attempted to become the first from her reservation to gain an athletic scholarship.
Obviously, she succeeded, and her sister followed in her footsteps, even winning the Elite 89 award earlier in the tournament, a distinction given to the top student-athlete participating at each NCAA championship site.
In an article by the New York Times' Jere Longman, Shoni described how she feels about the ramifications of her success and voiced her appreciation for the support she has received from the Native American population:
It’s a blessing to show other people you can make it; coming off a reservation, you can do whatever you want...You’ve got to set your mind to it and believe in yourself. It’s indescribable how I feel that they’re following me and supporting me.
Although Louisville has received valuable contributions from sharpshooting guard Antonita Slaughter and Bria Smith—the team's leading scorers in the team's semifinal triumph over California—the big storyline has been the Schimmel sisters.
As Grace Schneider of the Courier-Journal reports, the sisters' impact reaches well beyond their own tribe. Dianne Willis, who is a part of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia, Miss., took her daughters to Louisville's game against Cal just to watch the Shimmels in action.
The Cardinals are the lowest seed to ever reach the national title game, and were just the second No. 5 seed to reach the women's Final Four. Meanwhile, the Huskies are a fixture as a No. 1, and are 7-0 in championship games under head coach Geno Auriemma.
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In their previous regular-season matchup, UConn defeated the Cardinals easily by a score of 72-58, but this is a far different team from the one the Huskies played on Jan. 15. Nonetheless, Jeff Walz's resilient team will enter as heavy underdogs on Tuesday evening—precisely the position the Cardinals have thrived in amidst this unprecedented run.
Nobody embodies the adversity Louisville has overcome in this tournament better than the Shimmel sisters, and reaching the pinnacle of women's college basketball would be a fitting end to this Cinderella story.