FULLERTON, Calif. – Jessica Palmer only made it a few seconds into the moment of silence before she had to wipe away tears. A teammate beside her couldn’t help it, either, and brought an arm up to her face.
As much as the Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball team tried to return to normalcy Saturday, its first game since the killings of assistant coach Monica Quan and her fiancée, Keith Lawrence, was almost too much to take.
“It was hard, it was really hard,” junior guard Alex Thomas said after a 64-45 loss to UC Riverside. “Harder than I expected it to be. There’s just a lot of emotions that come into it – not being able to look down the line and see her standing up there with us. I know at least for me, it was really difficult ... it was hard not having her with us.”
The game came six days after the 28-year-old Quan and Lawrence, 27, were found shot inside a parked car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium. Police suspect Christopher Dorner, a fired Los Angeles police officer who was reportedly represented in a disciplinary hearing by Quan’s father, Randal, a former LAPD captain.
Additional security presence was noticeable in Titan Gym. Inside the entrance was a memorial, including Quan’s picture inside of a wreath along with flowers and a guestbook for fans to write messages for the coach they called “Coach Mo.”
Fullerton players wore long-sleeve orange shirts that read “MO-tivation” on the front and “it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Quan was only in her second year with Fullerton but her influence appeared to be considerable. Fullerton coach Marcia Foster choked up during the postgame news conference and later said, “It was a challenge for me to come up here today” in front of a myriad of cameras.
“We can’t say how sorry we are to Randal Quan and (mother) Sylvia Quan and (brother) Ryan Quan and the family of Keith Lawrence,” Foster said. “It doesn’t make sense to any of us, and you all know that young people shouldn’t have to experience this kind of tragedy. A family shouldn’t have to go through it.
“I don’t think anybody feels like they’re healing right now. We feel like we’re just getting through.”
Senior forward Lauren Bushong said the team had sleepovers and cook-offs the past couple of days to try to cope with the loss. Palmer became emotional when she talked about how Quan helped her deal with an injury.
“Without her, I’m not quite sure I would have able to get through it,” Palmer said. “Being injured and whatnot, she was always there for me. I thought she was a great person.”
An emotional Fullerton team never was really in the game. It received a round of hugs from Riverside coaches and players during the handshake, and fans cheered them as they walked off the court.
The players laughed when asked what Quan would have thought of their performance.
“She’s way big on the little things and the details,” Thomas said. “And today we didn’t really take of the details the way we know we should have. She would have been proud of our effort, proud of us coming out and being there and trying to stay focused. But she definitely would have wanted us to pay attention to the little things more.”
Foster didn’t hesitate when asked if she thought Quan would have eventually become a head coach.
“Without a doubt,” Foster said. “She was bright, driven and loved basketball and was passionate about teaching young women the game and about life. She’d have been a fantastic head coach. She was a rising coach. That’s what’s so hard about it all.”