Oshkosh, Wisc. (WBAY) On paper, the 2018-2019 season has been the best of UW-Oshkosh guard Chloe Pustina's college career, but a personal tragedy could have easily kept her off the court altogether for her senior season.
It's the first season Pustina will be playing without her mother, Nancy Pustina, sitting front row and center for all the action. Nancy lost her battle to cancer at the start of the season. She's been honored at UWO’s Pink Game and even with a moment of silence by the Titans’ rivals which is fitting, since Chloe says she's missing her loudest fan.
“When our teams would run out for warm-ups, she would use her fingers and do her big 'ole whistle,” Chloe Pustina said. “Like everyone in the gym heard it, and everyone knew it was coming from her, so I loved listening for that every time.”
Chloe's pregame ritual's a little different now with her mother gone. Now it's Nancy doing the listening.
“Every national anthem, I’ll start by just talking to her, make sure she's there and watching with me and stuff, so that's the only thing,” Pustina said. “I know she is."
UWO’s exhibition against Wisconsin was the last game Nancy Pustina would attend before she passed.
“She (Nancy Pustina) really wanted to make it to that one,” Pustina said. “She set it as a goal when she was coming home for the final time from the hospital, so it was really tough for me to play in that, but knowing she wanted to see me play one more time and knowing how hard she had fought for everything, I knew I could make it through that game just fine for her."
What has happened since nothing short of remarkable. Chloe's senior season has been her top-scoring. She's averaging a career high in points, making her the 11th ranked Titans’ 3rd leading scorer.
“She’s had an incredible season. She's never scored as much as she has been great defensively, and this is--she saved her best for last,” Titans Head Coach, Brad Fischer said. “The way she's played and led our team, you know, we've been one of the best teams in the country, and you don't do that without a great point guard, and for her to do that with everything she's had to go through, is all a credit to Chloe and her toughness.”
Let's talk about that toughness for a second. In spite of everything, Chloe’s missed just two games this season.
“She (Nancy Pustina) wanted for me to keep doing my regular activities, school work,” Pustina said. “Even though were far away, she wanted me to be here, doing school and basketball, so really, just knowing what she wanted from me, knowing how much she was fighting for herself and her family, it just makes everything more important to me, and I know that I want to be doing this for her, and for me because that's all she every wanted.”
Basketball has been and continues to be a huge part of the healing process for Chloe.
“You know, when we told her she could go and come back whenever she wanted to, one of the first things she said is ‘This is one place where I can forget about it,’ and I think basketball gave her an outlet, and her teammates gave her an outlet. It was there for a reason for her.”
“My team was great for me,”Pustina said. “They were my second family for sure, so when I couldn't be home because it was just too far away, they were always there for me. They kept my mind off of it a lot which helped, I think, but they were always there for me if I need to talk about it too.”
Chloe will likely have basketball as that outlet for a while longer. The titans are first in the WIAC conference standings with two regular season game to go, and they’ve got their eyes on another NCAA tournament berth.