March 31, 1999
The Journey Continues
By Alison Stuebe
I first watched ACC basketball in March of 1983, cheering on North Carolina State's men in their improbable national championship run. That winter was also the first time I played basketball, in gym class. Not five-on-five, real basketball, mind you-but some bastardization of the old six-on-six, girls-don't-run-the-court basketball of yesteryear. I was 10 years old, 5'5'' and dreamed of being the next Mary Lou Retton. She would vault her way onto the front of a Wheaties box the following summer, while I did terrible, gangly hand-stands in the backyard, determined not to let my height get in the way of my gymnastics career.
As I jumped on the Duke women's hoops bandwagon last Monday night, screaming and cheering for Nicole Erickson, Michele VanGorp and Georgia Schweitzer, I couldn't help wondering what it would have been like to be a 10-year-old girl watching them in March of 1999. Would I be practicing my Peppi Browne moves to the basket? Or posting up down low like VanGorp?
I did get over my gymnastics aspirations and played basketball at my New York City all-girls school. I also spent two sweltering summer weeks in Cameron Indoor Stadium at women's basketball camp. I distinctly remember the day Quin Snyder walked into Cameron between camp sessions, and about 100 campers swarmed him, begging for autographs. We saw the Duke women's players every day, but back then, they hadn't been on ESPN or to the Final Four, and no one seemed particularly impressed. There was a Duke basketball tradition, but women were on the periphery. I left camp relieved to have survived two weeks of scrimmaging without air conditioning in July, but without the awe I feel for today's women's team.
Watching them play these past few weeks, I've felt part of something much more compelling than the men's championship run. Sportswriters contest that the women's game is more emotional, so fans get drawn into the game. That may be part of the story-although I'd take issue with anyone who said John Chaney wasn't "emotional" on the sidelines of the men's East Regional final last weekend-but there is something completely different about seeing these women dribble and pass and shoot and box out and give everything they have to a basketball game. There is something indescribably awesome about seeing Gail Goestenkors cut down the nets in Greensboro and pump her hand over her head.
I've spent a decade watching Duke men's hoops, and I don't think I've ever been inspired to pick up a basketball after a game. But Saturday morning, after the win over Georgia, I dragged my husband to the gym for a little one-on-one. My jump shot needs work, and even though I'm 6'2'' it's abundantly clear why I wasn't anyone's division I recruiting prospect. But at 26 years old, in my second year of medical school, I was driving to the basket, trying to do a little Peppi Browne move. When I bricked a three, I was (unsuccessfully) aping Nicole Erickson.
It must be that role model thing. You can argue that all of us mortals have trouble identifying with Corey Maggette's 40-inch vertical leap, but as a girl, I'm another step removed. With our women in the NCAA's, I've been reminiscing about my high school 10-1 senior season, and I've toyed with calling up my old teammates for a little scrimmage next time I'm at home. And Sunday night, when Purdue took over in the second half, I took it personally, in a way I don't think I did when Scotty Thurman hit that three for Arkansas in '94, or even when the clock ran out in St. Petersburg Monday night. Those times, I was upset for Duke; Sunday, I think, I felt it most for Coach G and her players. In my own, minuscule way, in the last game of my senior year in high school, I'd been there too, sobbing in the hallway of another school's gym, knowing their team was walking away with what we'd worked all season to have.
That's no consolation, I know, for the women who left the court in San Jose Sunday night without a championship. But I know that there are gawky 10-year old girls out there, driving to the basket and dreaming of wearing Duke blue in a Final Four. As Hilary Howard said, this year's team put themselves on the map. There is a Duke women's basketball tradition. And that is awesome.
Alison Stuebe, Trinity '95, is a former editor of The Chronicle.
This article was published on March 31,