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Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Maryland's "Good Old Days" Have Arrived

By Mel Greenberg

COLLEGE PARK, Md.
_ Back in the day, except for a slip here and there, Maryland was one of the top women’s basketball programs in the country from the late 1970s into the early 1990s.

The Terrapins appeared in the original Associated Press women’s poll on Nov. 25, 1976 and of the top 20 teams that appeared in the inaugural ranking, they lasted the longest, dropping out after 131 weeks on Dec. 2, 1984.

Maryland returned a year or so later. In that overall span, the Terrapins went to the national semifinals in 1978 when the AIAW, then the governing body of women’s collegiate athletics, first used a Final Four format. In 1982, Chris Weller’s group played in the first NCAA Women’s Final Four. And in 1989, her team returned to the national semifinals.

A few years later came the memorable 67-65 upset of then-No. 1 Virginia on Jan. 15, 1992, in Charlottesville that propelled Maryland to its first No. 1 ranking the following week.

The victory over the Cavaliers, who were then led by seniors Dawn Staley and Tammy Reiss, set in motion a buildup for the Atlantic Coast Conference return encounter a month later in College Park.

While Maryland had a reputation for drawing talent, the Terrapins’ crowds in those were, well, sparse.

“They’re really talking a lot down here about the next game,” Weller said of the next Virginia encounter. “They think they can fill the place up. I don’t know if that will happen, but it’s fun to see.”

It was even more fun when Feb. 11 arrived and the place was packed to standing room only.

One player, who had heard the buzz of a potential sellout but wasn’t ready to accept the talk, commented afterwards, “I believed it when we came out of the tunnel and when we made the turn toward the court, all I saw were a wall of faces instead of the red seats we normally see.”

The game lived up to the hype with Virginia getting revenge, 75-74.

Some of the fabled names in Maryland lore of that overall era were Olympians Tara Heiss, Vicky Bullet, and Kris Kirchner, who later transferred to Rutgers; Debbie Lyttle from Gratz High in Philadelphia, Jasmina Perazic, and Deanna Tate.

When Maryland vanished from the national scene a few years later in the mid-1990s, all the above became referenced as “the good old days of Terrapin basketball.”

Now, it’s a decade later since the “good old days.”

On Wednesday night, in a foyer of Maryland’s magnificent Comcast Center that opened several years ago, the Terrapins had a small reception for media and Maryland’s boosters.

The occasion was to present the recently-constructed housing of the NCAA championship trophy coach Brenda Frese’s team won in a thrilling overtime title game in Boston against ACC-rival Duke in April.

The hardware, encased in glass and surrounded by four columns with action shots from the title game, is in the middle of the foyer. Down at one end is the men’s championship won by Gary Williams’ bunch several years ago.

Frese talked about the dream at her moment of hire here coming true to be able to deliver the Terrapins’ first-ever NCAA women’s basketball title.

Not far from the display and just below mounted on a wall was the floor the Terrapins and Blue Devils used in Boston along with LSU and North Carolina, the other teams in last season’s finals.

A few feet away on another wall on the same side is the floor that Williams’ team played on to win the men’s title.

Before the proceedings began, our colleague Milton Kent, a Maryland alum who writes for the Baltimore Sun, was spotted taking a digital shot of the goods.

“I’m taking this for (ESPN’s) Pam Ward,” Kent smiled about another Terrapin grad who never thought she’d see her school represented on the podium for a championship presentation in her lifetime.

Originally, many thought the season ahead was the one Maryland would contend for the title. Instead, all the youth of a year ago is just that much more experienced to go for a second straight championship.

All five starters return, including 6-foot-4 junior forward Laura Harper, the MVP of the championship game, and 6-3 junior center-forward Crystal Langhorne, the star of the national semifinals upset of North Carolina.

In the backcourt is 6-1 sophomore guard-forward Marissa Coleman. 5-9 senior guard and Israeli native Shay Doron, and 5-8 sophomore guard Kristi Toliver, who hit the dramatic three-pointer late in overtime that put the NCAA title in Maryland’s hands.

A prominent newcomer is 5-9 junior guard Sa’de Willey-Gatewood, a transfer from Tennessee who will become eligible after the fall semester.

Returning substitutes include 5-10 junior guard Ashleigh Newman, 6-2 senior Auriele Noirez and 6-1 junior-forward Jade Perry.

Kalika France, who was a redshirt while dealing with injuries, will not return and is expected to transfer after her fall classes.

In sizing up Wednesday night’s scene as players, media, and guests, exchanged interviews and chomped down on appetizers of cheeses, crab dip, shrimp in bay seasoning, and assorted melon, pineapple, and strawberry slices, there was only one conclusion to make.

Forget the past.

Here in College Park, the good old days are now.

-- Mel

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