Thursday, November 5, 2009

Old Dominion versus Stanford: Remember when.....

Anybody who was there can’t help but remember how electric the Old Dominion field house was on Dec. 17, 1996 – the last time Stanford passed through Norfolk.

Stanford came in the No. 1 team in the nation. But ODU was No. 1 in the field house by the end of the night. The Lady Monarchs stunned the Cardinal 83-66.

ODU opens the season on Nov. 13 against a Stanford team that comes in ranked No. 2 nationally behind one of the game’s elite players, center Jayne Appel, a preseason AP All-American.

ODU doesn’t figure to win this time. The Lady Monarchs are young and not as healthy as they’d like. ODU’s only senior, Jessica Canady, has been sidelined with knee rehab, and it will be the first game in two years for highly touted post Tia Lewis. But no matter what happens on the 13th, it can’t duplicate the few hours in that field house that December.

The Constant Center is ODU’s jewel and rightfully so. The field house was an old gym with uncomfortable bleachers and smelly restrooms. It was a wonderful place to watch a basketball game though, and the fervor that rocked that place the night of the Stanford game was unmatched.

The standing-room only crowd was frenzied before the opening tip. The game was never close. ODU had chemistry from the jump and played a defense that was monster – can anybody say Mery Andrade? Clarisse Machanguana and Ticha Pencheiro scored 16 apiece and TP had 10 assists.

ODU had already upended Vandy, Purdue and Duke coming in, and would go on to beat Tennessee for the first time ever at the field house in front of another electric crowd. And as great as it was for ODU to beat anything coached by Pat Summitt, that crazy crowd didn’t match the intensity of the Stanford night.

By then everybody knew how good ODU was. In the December game, there was still a hint of doubt. The Lady Monarchs came into the season with high expectations, but were shocked in the second game of the season at home against NC State. It was a loss that prevented ODU from hosting the semifinals and final of the preseason WNIT. It also prevented them from ever having the top ranking that season as UConn went undefeated until the NCAA tournament.

But ODU left no doubt on the floor that night against Stanford and set the tone for the magical run that ended with a loss to the Lady Vols in the NCAA title game. It was a run that included another victory over Stanford – ODU rallied from 15 down to defeat the Cardinal in the national semifinals in overtime.

And yes was a great night to be in the crowd for a Lady Monarchs game, too. In Cincinnati that night, Wendy Larry would hold up her index finger at game’s end, a shot a photographer snapped. That photo hangs in the living room of Virginia Larry, Wendy’s mom.

That game sent ODU to the national championship. I loved the night in Norfolk more. That was the night we learned just how great those Lady Monarchs could become. It remains one of the top nights to be at a sporting event ever in Hampton Roads.

Have a memory from then? Feel free to share.

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