Saturday, January 11, 2014

The lost connection: ODU past and ODU present

Here's the reality of playing for Old Dominion that perhaps is getting lost amid a season of unspectacular results.

When you wear that uniform, it isn't just about you. It's about national titles won by Nancy, Anne and Inge. It's about Marianne Stanley and Wendy Larry. It's about Ticha, Clar and Mery and a 1997 NCAA runner-up finish. It's about Lucienne and Tanty and the Elite Eight. It's about TJ, Megan and Shahida returning ODU to the Sweet 16 -- about that sweet 3 from Jazzmin Walter against Virginia.

Indeed this is history, but we worry that it's becoming ancient history -- a subject hard for today's player to relate to in any specific way.

Maybe it's not fair, but playing with heart, grit, determination -- all admirable qualities that this team rarely fails to demonstrate -- aren't enough to whet the appetite of anyone familiar with Old Dominion lore.

Losing by 24 to Duke isn't a crisis by any means, but nor is is worth patting anyone on the back for. A 21-point loss at Charlotte is hard to stomach in the conference opener. Getting crushed by 30 on your home court by Tulane a few days later is even worse.

The truth is this ODU era isn't connected to the others -- yet, at least. The amnesiac waking up from a five-year slumber would have trouble reconciling this ODU team and program with the ones from the past. It's a new coaching staff, an almost entirely new cast -- though Becca Allison, Ashley Betz White and Tiffany Minor were all recruited by Wendy -- and a new conference with no familiar rivals, no home-and-home with James Madison. Tennessee doesn't come to town anymore and a home schedule featuring the MEAC, Radford and UMass-Lowell doesn't cut it for a team that had regular play dates with the likes of Rutgers, Texas Tech and North Carolina.

Growing pains happen with transition, and these Lady Monarchs have made tremendous strides with their academics. They remain an active, welcome presence in the Hampton Roads community. Karen is a coach whose enthusiasm would wear down the energizer bunny -- she's hard not to like, hard not to root for. But ultimately it's the results on the court that matter, and it's safe to say that those haven't come as quickly as many would have hoped given the rhetoric of a coach who talks passionately about conference titles and NCAA Tournament wins.

The reality is this Lady Monarch team is not as good as the one last year, which wasn't as good as the 20-win one that beat Louisville and Georgia Tech during Wendy's final season two years before. It's January -- still early, admittedly -- and ODU's best result is an OT loss to Marist on a neutral floor. Two blowout losses came to Virginia Tech and VCU -- teams ODU owned last season. And consider that while this VCU team didn't play the type of non-conference schedule that would catapult its RPI, the very young Rams under second-year coach Marlene Stollings are 14-2, a record the Lady Monarchs can only envy.

So if you're concerned for the Lady Monarchs, there's good reason. If you're overly alarmed, consider there's more than a glimmer of hope. It's been a rough three years indeed, but Karen has been a winner as a high school player at Menchville, as a collegiate star at Christopher Newport, as a championship coach at the Apprentice School and at Elon, a program she transformed. Shae Kelley belongs in the class with many of the greats we mentioned above, and she's only a junior. We're somewhat over the phrase "highly touted recruiting class," as most recruits sound good on paper, but West Virginia transfer Jennie Simms along with four others of promise could transform this team into a contender as early as  next season.

High expectations and potential surround this program, and Karen has magnified both with her relentless enthusiasm and desire. But at some point, the results have to match that or at least come close. Yep, Duke is Duke, but Charlotte and Tulane are not. Expectations come with wearing an ODU uniform by an educated fan base that was treated to some of the best the game had to offer over nearly a 30-year span.

Right now the connection to that glorious past is only in the history books.

1 comment:

  1. Sad to see ODU's program taking a step back when some teams the Lady Monarchs faced last year -- VCU, Va. Tech and others -- took a step in the other direction. It's staggering that VCU is 14-2 this year. Rams' coaches apparently outworked ODU in bringing in a talented group that fits welll into the coach's pholosophy; whereas ODU's "highly touted recruited class" is contributing little. Tulane is a good program, but the Green Wave isn't Duke, Tennessee or UConn. Too bad ODU just can't compete.