My first newspaper beat was covering a scrappy young women’s basketball team that liked to shoot from all over the court, before the 3-point shot was even a thing. They didn’t make ’em all, but they loved trying
It was winter 1980-81, and I was a high school senior covering basketball for “The Light,” a newspaper published by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Perhaps if you follow prep sports, you’ve heard of the juggernaut that is Incarnate Word Academy (IWA) basketball; back then, it was just girls who loved to play.
That made them the perfect team to cover. Not only did I learn to write on deadline, it was the first time I discovered joy in a writing gig.
Within 9 years, I’d be at a national sports magazine, one of two women on the editorial staff of the Sporting News. Among my proudest achievements was the suggestion to male colleagues to start covering women’s sports, a notion scoffed at, at first. But by the spring of 1995, I was courtside at Minneapolis’ Target Center witnessing the birth of a dynasty.
That was the night the University of Connecticut won its first-ever women’s basketball title, defeating Tennessee and capping a perfect 35-0 season. Afterward, Coach Geno Auriemma was beaming. “Good things happen to good people,” he said. “This is the way it was supposed to turn out.”
Sometimes, life does turn out the way you want it to, and it comes full circle. On Monday, Auriemma, 10 national titles later, was in St. Louis with his team and I was back in the same gym with notebook in hand. The occasion was the jersey retirement of UConn’s Napheesa Collier, a 2015 graduate of IWA and a young woman who could end up the best basketball player to come out of Missouri.
UConn was in town to play Saint Louis University. But first, the team stopped by Collier’s alma mater to celebrate her and women’s basketball at a high school that has won seven state titles since 1995. The enthusiasm was electric, and so was the spirit, evidenced by the hundreds of alumnae and friends who came back on a December night. It’s quite a place, this IWA. Nestled away in Bel Nor with its navy blue jumpers, modular academic schedule and palpable pluck, it’s one of the best kept secrets in St. Louis.
I know I’m biased, but don’t take my word for it. Go check out some basketball this winter. Keep tabs on Collier, a talented young woman with a smile that lights up a room. After college, USA Basketball and the WNBA are beckoning.
“The little things,” Collier said, when asked about similarities between UConn and IWA. “Never stop hustling, get excited for your teammates, lift each other up.”