BOULDER — In a sense, Ceal Barry’s world is coming to a standstill.
The only job she has known for 22 years — coach of the Colorado women’s basketball team — will abruptly end in a matter of days. She considers her players the closest family she has in the area. Her future plans are largely unknown.
On the brink of such abrupt change, her mind is preoccupied with only one thing.
With the rest of college basketball abuzz about her retirement, Barry has maintained meticulous focus. Ask her about her last game at the Coors Events Center, which takes place tonight at 7 p.m., and she rattles off statistics about her opponent, Nebraska.
Colorado holds a 19-game home winning streak over the Cornhuskers that dates to 1985. Keeping that streak alive is the primary motivation tonight. Paying tribute to Barry ranks second, according to the coach herself.
“I’ve heard from enough players over the last few days about how it’s important to keep this streak alive,” she said. “Our alumni know about it, and it’s important to them. It’s something else we can shoot for.”
Barry may be the person most concerned with the streak.
Most of the expected capacity crowd will not arrive to see the Buffs, owners of a 1-14 conference record, finish off a forgettable season. Fans are expected to attend to salute a coach who put women’s basketball on the map in Colorado.
University officials will honor their long-time coach with a farewell ceremony after the game. Seniors Veronica Johns-Richardson and Sarah Lini will also bid farewell to the home crowd.
Barry expects she will remain composed during the game. Afterward, however, she admits it will be an emotional night.
“I can’t even imagine thinking about it,” she said after Tuesday’s practice. “If you get me thinking about it, it’s really going to be emotional. So the more I talk about it right now, the more emotional I will get.”
Six days after making her announcement, her retirement has not quite hit home.
“You mean do I say, ‘What the heck did I just do? Was that a dream?,’” she joked. “I don’t think it will really hit me for two years.”
Still, Barry has not wavered in her belief it was the right time for her to leave the team that she has coached since 1983.
“It was necessary,” she said. “The timing was right for me to do it, so yeah, I’m at peace. It doesn’t make it easier, but I know sometimes you make emotional decisions and sometimes intellectually, the right decision. This is the right intellectual decision.”
She will not completely leave. When Barry retired, she accepted a role as the athletic department’s assistant director for student services.
Staying in touch with students perhaps will be the part of the job she likes the most.
Her players would like to reciprocate her feelings for them by sending her off the court tonight with her 510th career win. It will be a tall order.
Colorado has lost a school-record 11 consecutive games.
They fared well against Nebraska (16-11, 8-7) in their first meeting of the season in Lincoln — at least for one half. Colorado trailed by five points at halftime, but turnovers decimated the team down the stretch. The Buffs lost, 82-64.
The Buffaloes want to avenge that loss not only for their outgoing coach, but for themselves.
“Someone asked me if I wanted to get a win bad for coach tonight, and I said, ‘Hey, I want to get it more for myself,’” said Johns-Richardson, who is eyeing a professional career in Europe next season.
Her four seasons in Boulder may seem short compared toBarry’s 22-year tenure, but she plans on being no less emotional when she steps off that court tonight.
“I actually wrote my speech when I was a freshman, and it’s been a work in progress as people come and go,” Johns-Richardson said.
“But my feelings are the same. I love my teammates and I love Boulder. If I had to do it all over again, I’d be here again.”