We had provisionally planned to drop by Hyattsville this afternoon to witness Paul VI successfully complete the first undefeated WCAC conference run from a team not named DeMatha before realizing that the game had already sold out by the end of last week.
Plan B was Comcast and helping "Pack the House" for Duke-Maryland. As much as we would have enjoyed hanging with all the college coaches at DeMatha, an afternoon with the Lady Terps means a Comcast memory exceeding American's upset in 2007.
Fantastic game; even if Tiana Hawkins' putback off her ninth offensive rebound -- her ninth offensive rebound (with zero defensive rebounds) -- didn't go in or Alyssa Thomas doesn't make the incredible block to close out the win, it was still the best spectacle I've experienced firsthand in the stadium.
15,150 people. Eighth largest crowd in ACC women's basketball history (not coincidentally, also the eighth largest women's crowd in Maryland history and the eighth largest crowd during Coach Frese's tenure). Number five team in the country visiting and that team just happens to be Duke. Kids going nuts throughout the game and not once -- not once -- does a "Duke Sucks" chant even begin as a whisper in the stands, even though there are a sizable number of students in the arena.
Add 2,800 more fans to today's total and what transpired this afternoon should be the aspirational dream of the Athletics Department for every game at Comcast.
Cut through all the chauvinistic crap about how women's basketball is a lesser liberal sideshow not worthy of the attention of true red-blooded sports fans and what you get is tension, exhilaration, and excellence on par with anything on display in men's basketball.
At Maryland, you also get a bunch of added benefits. For example, on offer is an emphasis on academic achievement equal to athletic success, evinced by a graduation success rate for an exceptional women's basketball program -- measuring freshman that preceded Coach Frese's tenure by a year and extending to 2004 -- of 81 percent compared to Gary Williams' substantial improvement to 46 percent (and Ralph Friedgen's 59 percent). On offer is a coach committed to winning over the community -- both on campus and in the broader metropolitan area -- despite the affected apathy of the doyens of sport in Washington D.C.
Coach Frese wears her heart on her sleeve, taking pride in how much effort she's put out in bringing fans to the game rather than bemoaning short shrift. Because of that commitment, what was exceptional in 1992 (a women's game drawing 14 thousand plus in College Park) is now almost pedestrian.
Coach Frese has been indefatigable in this regard. When she started, attendance for women's games averaged under 2 thousand people; it was 833 as late as the 1994-1995 season and at 1,681 in 2001-2002. The current total hasn't dipped below 4,500 since the 2004-2005 season (4,169).
A losing season in the ACC in 2010 led attendance to collapse from near 9,000 fans a game in the three seasons between 2006 and 2009 to around 5,000 the last two years. And, yet, despite the fickle nature of support, the team has thrown itself into wooing fans from outside the school (with multiple meet the players and team events) and within (student raffles for video game consoles). Prior to the Miami game, there hasn't been a lot of payoff for those efforts. But the team persisted and the faith shown in the community paid off today.
As good as Maryland was on the court, it was just as good in the stands.