In her 23rd season as coach of the Virginia women's basketball team, Debbie Ryan has seen a lot of great teams. The legendary sideline screamer, who coached in her 701st game last night, won an amazing six straight ACC titles from 1990-1996 and has been named Conference Coach of the Year four times.
But, the last three years have been a mild disappointment for the coach and her loyal fans. The Cavs have failed to advance past the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and, after seeing their Conference championship streak broken in 1996-97, have yet to return to the top of the standings. Meanwhile, other national powers such as Connecticut, Tennessee and even the hated Blue Devils have stolen the spotlight that once shone brightly on the Cavaliers.
The slump came at just the wrong time. Women's basketball is on the brink of exploding into big-time sports, both collegiately and professionally. The WNBA has recruited a strong group of young, loyal fans, and, especially in Tennessee where the Volunteers and Vanderbilt square off annually to record crowds, sports fans - male and female - are taking notice of the dramatically improving product.
Not at Virginia, though. Today, a letter to the editor at The Cavalier Daily was published by none other than Debbie Ryan. Coach Ryan implored Virginia fans - the same ones who will wait half a day to gain entrance to an ACC men's basketball game - to fill the empty seats that plague University Hall during the No. 21 Cavaliers' Conference showdowns.
"We would like to create a similar atmostphere that you have helped to create for our men's team," Ryan wrote.
Last night at Clemson, though, the Cavaliers put together an efficient, well-rounded dismantling of the Tigers in the 72-63 victory. Volnaya burst out of her slump with 22 points on 4-of-4 three-point shooting. First-year sensation Schuye LaRue, the Cavs' leading scorer, added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. In a game where the Cavs (20-16, 11-2 ACC) shot an astounding 53 percent and tied a team record with 11 treys, we learned that when everybody on the floor contributes this team can be unstoppable.
Tell that to the Virginia fans. Tell that to Debbie Ryan. Maybe, just maybe, this team, as it continues to sweep through the ACC team by team, can fill the orange and blue seats in U-Hall one by one.