Cullop has Lady Rockets back at full throttleWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite a season-ending 72-57 loss to the University of Michigan (19-13) in the second round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament last week, the Toledo Lady Rockets are back.
Led by three-time all-Mid American Conference first teamer Tanika Mays (14.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg), the Rockets rolled to a 25-9 overall record and sat atop the conference’s West Division regular season standings at 12-4.
UT fell to perennial conference powerhouse and East Division champion Bowling Green 62-53 in the MAC tourney championship bout, giving the Falcons the automatic bid in the 2010 women’s NCAA Championship.
Destined to prove that they could have been an equal or better adversary for opponents in the Big Dance, the Rockets may have shown it with a 70-58 win over Pittsburgh in a WNIT opening round contest at Savage Arena on March 19.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get what we wanted, but it’s a great opportunity for the underclassmen to walk away with a good experience and know what’s like to be in the postseason not only for this year but for something to work for in the future,” said senior forward Allie Clifton (5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg), prior to the victory.
“With this being a springboard, we want this to be something that every recruit who comes into our program wants to be a part of and wants to build with us,” second-year coach Tricia Cullop said.
A second-half collapse at Ann Arbor, in the tournament’s second round on March 21, may have stopped the Rockets from remaining the lone MAC team still lacing up the sneakers. BG fell in their opening round game of NCAA tourney 72-62 to Big Ten runner-up Michigan State.
While the Lady Falcons rule the MAC nest and have for six years under Curt Miller, UT has quickly realigned its firepower and taken direct aim at BG since Cullop’s arrival prior to the 2008-09 campaign.
A 66-63 home victory over the Falcons in January proved it. The MAC title game appearance offered reaffirmation that the Rockets are back in the thick of it.
“BG’s a great team but it really comes down to us knowing how to play and keep it going,” Clifton said.
Not only are the Lady Rockets returning to hardwood success, they’re getting things done in the campus classrooms as well. In three recorded semesters under Cullop, the cumulative team GPA is a 3.10.
Cullop’s results follow former coach Mark Ehlen, who compiled a 236-145 record at UT between 1995-08, including a 1996 NCAA tourney appearance that saw the Rockets advance to the round of 32. But Ehlen’s teams compiled five straight losing campaigns prior to his resignation.
Cullop has quickly restored the winning ways of the UT program, and the school’s trust in her has become evident. Cullop’s first season saw her garner 2009 MAC co-coach of the year after leading the Rockets to an 11-5 conference mark (18-13 overall). After the season ended, she received a two year contract extension through 2014-15.
Cullop’s players have obliged her.
“There’s definitely a great support here from the community and over the last couple of years we’ve definitely shown what we want to do here as a team,” said Clifton, “and I think our athletic department has supported us well.”
Cullop came to Toledo from the University of Evansville (Ind.) where she built one of the top programs in the Missouri Valley Conference over an eight-season period, going 73-48 in that span and earning MVC Coach of the Year honors in 2007-08. The Purple Aces also garnered an NIT berth under Cullop.
“A couple of years ago while at Evansville the girls got to experience this and I was very excited for them. You’ve got to take steps and this is a step,” Cullop said.
Mays, Clifton and Northview product Lisa Johnson depart, but Cullop has a talented returning list headed by sophomore MAC second-team Naama Shafir (14.3 ppg, 6.7 apg), junior guard Jessica Williams (7.9 ppg) and junior F Melissa Goodall (9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) for next season. With the returning talent coupled with Cullop’s basketball knowledge, the future looks even brighter for the Rocket program.