Culbreath: Rockets women’s basketball team is ‘something special’Written by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | email@example.com
Two years ago, the Glass City got caught in a frenzy when the Toledo Rockets women’s basketball team worked their way through the Women’s NIT, culminating in a memorable championship game at Savage Arena against USC. The Trojans came in ready to flex their muscle, but Naama Shafir put up 40 points to lead the Rockets to the 76-68 win.
Last year, nearly the same frenzy enveloped the town as the Rockets re-entered the WNIT. The ending wasn’t as nice as in 2011; the Syracuse Orange invaded Savage Arena and handed Toledo a 74-73 overtime loss in the quarterfinal round. The fans, however, still came to support the ladies as they tore their way through the postseason.
If you were one of those fans who started buying tickets for the WNIT, I’m going to implore you to get to a game now. I guarantee you that this year’s Rockets team will not be playing WNIT games at Savage, because they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament. They are that good.
20 wins already, 8 wins in a row. This year’s team is something special. Shafir came back to the team after missing most of the 2011-12 campaign with an injury. The only missing pieces from last year have been Courntey Ingersoll and Haylie Lynn, and names like Inma Zanoguera have stepped up to fill those gaps. Tricia Cullop has these women playing tougher than they ever have.
For example, Feb. 6 was supposed to be a difficult road date against the Miami Redhawks. Toledo had a share for the lead for the MAC West, while the Redhawks were the leaders in the East Division. How did Toledo fare? Oh, they only used a 38-2 run to drill Miami by 31 points.
Okay, maybe I cherry picked that game. It hasn’t always been easy. Just Feb. 3, they had a grind-out win over Western Michigan. An ug-uh-ly start that any team is capable of: 4 of 16 shooting and 8 turnovers in the first 11 minutes of play would sink any team, and they were staring at a 6 point hole before a Shafir bucket sparked a 21-3 run. The Rockets would win it 65-54.
Yes, there are those two pesky losses on their schedule. The first was against Dayton, a nationally ranked squad whom Toledo nearly beat anyways; the Flyers outscored Toledo 9-5 in the final two minutes to beat the Rockets 79-76. The second was on the very first conference game against Central Michigan, where foul trouble kept many of the playmakers off the court and allowed the Chippewas to score at will. Keep in mind, that’s only the 3rd conference loss Coach Cullop has suffered in her five seasons on the sidelines of Bob Nicholls court.
Throughout this season, I’ve talked to the radio voice of the women’s team, Jim Heller. At the start of the season, even after the first loss, he told me “Young Shaggy,” (if you’ve never heard Jim on the call, then you’re not hearing this in his voice, so just bear with me on this) “I tell you what, my good friend, this group of ladies could do something really special this season.” I tend to believe him; he’s got a championship ring. Not for playing, mind you, he was on the call when the Findlay Oilers team won the Division II title 2009. But if a man who watched a team go 36-0 says that this Rockets team can ball, then I tend to believe him.
If you’re a basketball fan, you need to take in a women’s game out at Savage. They put on a heck of a show, and you’re going to want to be familiar when this team as they start tearing through the MAC Tournament. The players or coaches won’t say this, but I will: no more early exits from the conference tourney. This team is going to the big dance.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.