Last night as I watched the Women’s National Championship game I was intrigued by the multitude of match ups prevalent in the game. The giant killer Mississippi State (who knocked off UConn) and the juggernaut South Carolina Lady Gamecocks were going to square off for the third time of the season. Several factors made this game unique:
- Both teams were from the same conference. It happens sometimes but very rarely do you get teams who are from the same conference in a National Championship game.
- Mississippi State has never won a national championship of any kind in any sport.
- South Carolina had never won a women’s national championship.
- Both coaches were competing to win their first ever national championship.
- Dawn Staley was trying to become the second African-American female to ever win a national championship in women’s hoops.
I was excited for both teams but the fact that Dawn Staley was coaching the Gamecocks made my choice easy. I can’t say that it didn’t come without hesitation though. South Carolina is still one of the states that flies the Confederate flag with regularity. However the state of Mississippi does it as well so that part was a draw. Which brings me back to Staley. I was her biggest fan when she hooped at the University of Virginia.
I remember a time when she was in college and they were playing the University of North Carolina in 1991 and myself and my college teammates skipped curfew to go watch them play and try to find her at an after party with no luck.
It’s very unfortunate that I didn’t find her too because she could have gotten all $73 that I had on me that night. I kid…
When we think of women’s college basketball in my lifetime, there are really only 3 – 4 teams that resonate with success and winning. 1. UConn (Geno Auriemma) 2. Tennessee (Pat Summitt) 3. UNC (Sylvia Hatchel) and 4. Stanford (Tara VanDerveer). Sure there have been other champions but these teams seem to always be in the mix or were in the mix when the coaches who are listed were there.
Noticeably absent from that list are any African American names.
C. Vivian Stringer is the name that most people think of when they think of black women basketball coaches. She justifies that thought by being 6th all time on the win list for all time women’s basketball coaches. Stringer holds the distinction of being the first coach in NCAA history to lead three different women’s programs to the NCAA Final Four: Rutgers in 2000 and 2007, the University of Iowa in 1993, and Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) in 1982.
Another name that jumps out at you is Carolyn Peck. Peck took the Purdue Boilermakers women’s team to the national championship at age 33 becoming the first African American female to ever coach a team to the national championship. Not only is that feat remarkable, when you consider it’s the only National Championship ever won by a women’s basketball team in the Big 10 conference says a lot. Peck’s coaching career has been a carousel of ups and downs. Ironically she’s now an assistant coach at her alma mater Vanderbilt.
As you can see what Staley was able to pull off last night holds a lot of weight historically. It’s not like colleges and universities are handing these head coaching jobs out to black women. They have to go the extra mile to get them and be productive to keep them. Dawn Staley winning it all may have just opened a few more doors for women of color. Chances are some school is going to want someone from her staff or one of her players to lead their team someday soon. Everyone wants a coach with a champions pedigree and Staley just sprinkled that black girl magic all over her team last night while leading them to that win.