Sunday, April 01, 2007

No Joke-This Sistah Can Coach

Not many people have heard of Rutgers University coach C. Vivian Stringer, but the peeps in the NCAA women's coaching ranks definitely have. She's the first coach male or female to take three different schools to the Final Four. (Rick Pitino of Louisville has matched that distinction on the men's side.)

When you mention the elite coaches in the NCAA women's ranks her Big East rival Geno Auriemma of Connecticut or Tennessee's Pat Summitt will come to mind. But C. Vivian Stringer has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as well. Her record during her 35-year coaching career is 750-215 (.749) which ranks third all time behind the 900 wins of just retired Texas Longhorn coach Jody Conradt and Pat Summitt's 913.

Stringer is called 'The Master Builder' for taking unknown and unheralded programs and molding them into elite level contenders. She did it first with Cheyney State, an HBCU located just outside Philadelphia. They made a surprise run to the national semifinals during the first NCAA sanctioned women's tournament in 1982. A decade later she coached the University of Iowa to a 1993 Final Four appearance. In 2000 she coached Rutgers to its first Final Four in Philadelphia but that team fell in the semifinals to Tennessee.

In what Stringer considers her most satisfying coaching job she's guided a Scarlet Knight team that has no seniors, three juniors, five freshmen and two sophomores to a second Final Four appearance. This team lost four of its first six games in November and December before putting together a 24-4 finishing kick that's taken Rutgers to the brink of a championship. They knocked off No. 1 seeded Duke and outlasted Arizona State to reach this year's tournament final in Cleveland.

It continued a magical season in which they finally knocked off their perennial Big East nemesis UConn after falling to them in the Big East tourney finals for two consecutive years. Rutgers takes on LSU in today's national semifinal with the victor playing either Tennessee or North Carolina for the NCAA championship Tuesday night.

She is a three time winner of the National Coach of the Year award in addition to a long list of honors she's received. She has a Olympic gold medal courtesy of her assistant coaching stint with the USA Women's team at the Athens Games in 2004. She was also named by Sports Illustrated magazine as one of the '101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports' in addition to being inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

But the honor she wants most is to walk away from Cleveland April 3 as the second African-American coach to win an NCAA women's championship.

No comments: