Womhoops Guru

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.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Guru's NCAA: Former Notre Dame Star Wakes Up Penn State's Echoes

By Mel Greenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. –
On one hand Penn State’s bid several years ago to be a first and second round host site for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, which opens play Saturday, appears to be a successful gamble considering the Lady Lions were still a rebuilding work in progress at the time under Coquese Washington, who succeeded longtime coach Rene Portland in April 2007.

But to hear the former Notre Dame star and associate head coach at her alma mater tell it here at press conferences in the Bryce Jordan during Friday’s practice sessions Penn State is a bit off Washington’s target in returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 2005.

“I wanted to be in the NCAA tournament the first year,” Washington said after taking over in the wake of successive losing seasons, which hadn’t occurred in Happy Valley since Portland became coach in 1980. “We are behind schedule as far as I am concerned. That’s the goal every year to win enough games to get in this tournament and compete.”

Washington’s Lady Lions had to experience two more losing records until getting a turnaround that resulted last season in a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Penn State (24-9), a sixth seed, will be one of the early risers in terms of Saturday games, going against 11th-seeded Dayton (21-11), the Atlantic 10 conference tournament runner up, at 11:10 a.m., in the part of the bracket known as the Philadelphia Regional.

If the Lady Lions, who finished runner up in the Big Ten conference tournament and regular season standings, become a surviving Cinderella by still being alive after Monday night, the Philadelphia Regional is an appropriate place to be.

Penn State has four players with ties to the City of Brotherly Love who would be making a homecoming if Washington’s troops land next weekend in Temple’s Liacouras Center.

The mix provides a poignant transition on the roster from the Portland era under which Penn State was one of the national powers with consistent appearances – a total of 21 out of a possible 24 NCAA tourneys prior to 2005-06 -- to the evolving one under Washington.

The highlight was 2000 when Penn State advanced with Rutgers, Tennessee and eventual champion Connecticut to the Women’s Final Four at the then-named Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

Devon’s Julia Trogele, the lone PSU senior, is the last of players recruited by Portland and it took a little coaxing from Washington for Trogele to maintain her commitment after Portland had departed under controversial issues involving a previous player.

“I’m just thrilled we have the opportunity this year and these kids and this team,” Washington said. “Especially that Julia Trogele gets the opportunity to get on this stage and compete.

“She’s gone through so much. So many heartbreaks and the ups and downs of her four years here, she’s just had a tremendous season in terms of being a leader for this team.”

If Trogele is the last bit of association with the past, freshman Maggie Lucas, a Germantown Academy graduate, is the emphatic addition to restore Penn State’s status and move them forward in the present.

Nicknamed “Machine Gun Maggie,” because of her long-range shooting ability in which she set several team records for three-point shooting, Lucas dominated the weekly Big Ten freshman awards leading her to be named the top newcomer when the conference postseason awards were recently announced.

Her 110 three-pointers set a season mark at both Penn State and in the conference.

Lucas is likely to erase many if not all the scoring records of former All-American Kelly Mazzante, who has played in the WNBA.

Incidentally, Lucas has now joined another former Germantown Academy star – Uconn’s Caroline Doty – is producing a trick shot video.

A link to Lucas’ taped performance can be found by googling her name.

The other two Lady Lions with Philly ties are freshman center Talia East, a graduate of the Friends School who quickly befriended Lucas during the recruiting process, and junior guard Renee Womack, a Methacton High graduate from Lansdale.

Despite the potential of a Sweet 16 ride in their hometowns, Trogele and Lucas expressed caution about looking beyond Saturday’s game with the Flyers.

“We don’t really want to look too far into the future,” Trogele said. “You have to take care of business tomorrow and Monday. That’s how we are looking at it. Just one game at a time.”
Lucas offered similar thoughts.

“We have to face Dayton and they’re a really great team,” she said of the Flyers who upset Temple in the Atlantic 10 semifinals and extended eventual repeat champion Xavier to the final minute. “Philly will come if we take care of what we have to take care of here.”

There’s also a Philadelphia tie on Washington’s staff in Fred Chmiel, a first-year assistant coming from San Diego State and who previously was an aide to Dawn Staley at Temple.

Penn State and the Flyers got their seasons started back in November when the Lady Lions grabbed a 112-107 win in double overtime at Dayton, which beat Penn State here in 2009-10.

Incidentally, for all the talk about rematches in the tournament, especially with the conference possibilities at three sites in the regional finals, it should be noted that in 1985-86 Rutgers and Penn State, both then in the Atlantic 10, met each other five times – twice in the regular season, once in a holiday tournament in Florida, the conference championship and the NCAA East Regional Final.

A year ago Dayton made its first appearance in the NCAA field.

“We’ve spoken a lot about our program being one that has a lot of firsts,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said.

“We’ve done a lot of things for the first time the last two or three years. The natural progression would be to go one more game than we did last year and have another first in our program.

“We’ve had an up and down season and we’re playing our best basketball right now.”

Dayton missed Justine Raterman, its leading scorer, for several games down the stretch because of a concussion and she has also had some knee problems but said she is good to go.

The Flyers, like Temple, are a host for the Sweet 16 but because schools who advance are not allowed by the NCAA to play on campus sites at that stage of the tournament, Dayton is here in the Philadelphia Regional part of the bracket, while Temple (23-8), a 10th seed, is in Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of the Dayton regional and will open Saturday afternoon against seventh-seeded Arizona State (20-10).

The other two teams out West in that quad are second-seeded Notre Dame (26-7), playing on the tenth anniversary of its 2001 NCAA championship run, and 15th-seeded Utah (18-16), which gained tournament access and its own arena by being a surprise winner in the Mountain West Conference.

Back here after Penn State and Dayton finish their business, third-seeded DePaul (27-6) will meet 14th-seeded Navy (20-11), the winner of the Patriot League last Saturday over American University at home in Annapolis, Md.

“Even if by some miracle we beat DePaul, that game in that atmosphere was our highlight,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said.

“DePaul can win the game in the first 10 minutes, we can’t win the game in the first 10 minutes,” she noted.

Pemper is associated with one all-time miracle in NCAA history as a Harvard assistant when the 16th-seeded Crimson featuring future WNBA All-Star Allison Feaster upset No. 1 Stanford at Stanford. That occurred after the Cardinal lost two key starters the week before the game because of injuries.

DePaul has a bit of monkey on the Blue Demons’ backs having been issued four straight opening round exits.

Doug Bruno’s squad was an 11th seed last season, losing in overtime to Vanderbilt; a seventh-seeded in 2009, losing to host San Diego State; a 10th-seed in 2008 losing to Marist; and a 10th-seed in 2007 losing to Georgia Tech.

“We have not shied away from this, either,” Bruno said of the setbacks after a Sweet 16 appearance in 2007. “You can put your head in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. We talk about it.

“These players are realty a good group in wanting to change it.”

Though on paper the seniors could be the first class at DePaul not to win an NCAA game, it is not likely to happen because the squad put itself into position to be a strong favorite.

DePaul had its best season since joining the Big East from Conference USA, finishing second before the conference tournament.

Ranked 10th in the final Associated Press women’s poll, the Blue Demons suffered a narrow loss to Notre Dame in the Big East semifinals after doing likewise to the Irish in the last regular season game.

DePaul also has a Philadelphia tie among its stars in junior Keisha Hampton, a graduate of Engineering and Science.

Bruno was an assistant UConn’s Geno Auriemma last fall on the USA National Team that won the FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic.

He is a favorite to be retained for the Olympic run when the games are held next year in London.

-- Mel

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