I didn’t want to let too much time go by before making note of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which may, for a four-year period, have been the single best cohort of team members ever to play the college game. Their dominance, even in the tougher games late in single-elimination conference, regional, and national tournaments, is going to be the stuff of legend.
But pull back the lens a little bit. Last night’s opponent for UConn was Syracuse University. The women’s basketball team may have been neophytes in terms of championship-level performances, but, as it turns out, Connecticut and Syracuse are responsible for the last three national championships in field hockey.
Before that, it was Maryland and North Carolina winning every field hockey championship from 2005 to 2011. These two universities have also had success on the basketball court, with UNC winning in 1994 and Maryland in 2006. These same two schools have also won the last three women’s lacrosse championships.
And the runner-up in two of the last four women’s lacrosse national tournaments? Syracuse.
What’s going on here? For me, it shows the value of the unseen team in intercollegiate athletics. There are certain universities which have found the management formula needed to support their athletic teams — everything from compliance officers to trainers, study hall proctors to video coaches, nutrition to psychology.
It comes from a commitment from the athletic director on down that the teams are truly valued, and not seen as a drain on the athletics budget.
That’s why I see some universities taking up women’s lacrosse, especially Florida, Michigan, and Southern California, as powerhouses in the making. They completely understand what it means to empower a team of women by giving coaches the tools needed to create successful teams.
Sure, it creates an environment where only a successful few may ever win Division I women’s champions. Which is why I’m hoping some athletic directors out there will study the successful programs and adapt. It’s better than failing over and over again.