Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Talking with Wendy Larry, inductee for the ODU Hall of Fame

Every time Wendy Larry plays the Old Dominion reel, she sees another face.

Her glorious career, which included taking the Lady Monarchs to the national championship in 1997, winning 17 CAA Tournament championships as head coach and amassing 608 victories for her alma mater, will be celebrated Nov. 8 when the New Jersey native will be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

Speaking from her Atlantic 10 office in Newport News, where today she is associate commissioner for women's basketball and championship director for softball, Larry acknowledges all the support she got along the way to her career milestones.

"Individuals make plays and teams win championships, so I am inviting every single person who had anything to do with my career at Old Dominion to come to breakfast," Larry said. "It is a village, isn't it?"

Rattling off names of those who made Team Larry roar could read like a "Who's Who of Lady Monarchs History" -- Celeste, Ticha, Clarisse, Lucienne, Mery, Tanty, Shareese . . . but Larry includes support staff such as Jessica Bowman, Felecia Allen, Leslie Williams and Annette Chester -- folks she credits with playing an invaluable role in her 24 seasons at ODU that ended in 2011.   "I think of all of them in addition to the trainers and the assistants and the operations directors. It's just amazing what we did."

Larry hasn't sent out an invite breakfast email yet -- the ceremony is at 9 a.m. during ODU's homecoming festivities -- but she's already got word that former Lady Monarch Deanna Vander Plas plans to come. "There's people who want to come back to celebrate the family," says Larry, who jokes she has 50 grandchildren out there (and she plans to visit every one of her kids' kids when she eventually retires).

Celebrating Larry's legacy at ODU is overdue.

After spending 30 years at ODU as a player, assistant for a national championship team and head coach, Larry parted ways with the school in May 2011 after athletic director Wood Selig did not offer her a contract extension. On the heels of a 20-11 season, it was chilly ending with no fanfare for a coach who kept the Lady Monarchs relevant despite the emergence of the power conference era.

Larry hasn't returned to ODU for a game but accepted this honor "for the program, for the players, for my mom, who will be 90 years old soon. I'm doing it because it's not just about me. I mean, you get over your bad self in that regard. It's about so many people. It's about everyone who was engaged with what we did, who knew us for what we were. It's recognition for a lot of good folks who did a lot of good things together."

Larry enjoys the role she has at the Atlantic 10, even though talks of endless phone calls and late nights piecing the recently released conference schedule together for 14 teams make for long hours. She travels more, usually by air, for a league that spreads from Richmond to St.  Louis to New England to upstate New York to Dayton. And she is an ideal sounding board for the league's coaches, who love having one of their own advocating on their behalf.

"Working on the conference schedule, I asked myself, 'What would I like as a coach?' " Larry said. "I asked myself that for all 14 teams."

The ODU soundtrack that plays in Larry's head when she reflects on her success starts at a different point every time, with a different face. Maybe it's a former manager like Bowman, now Jessica Horning, who today is school activities coordinator at Virginia Beach's Cox High School or maybe it's Clar, a mother of two in Italy or maybe it's a former assistant such as Cindy Fisher, head coach at the University of San Diego.

Sometimes she gets giddy recalling the memories --  there was the Monique Coker recruiting trip in the Bronx, which had her and assistant Allison Greene searching for their towed rental car past midnight. Other times it's awe -- recounting Grant's 35-point performance in the 2005 CAA title game with walk-on Melea Caldwell playing point and the ODU frontline fouled out.

Twenty NCAA Tournaments. Two Elite Eights. National runner-up. Triple-peating in the CAA championship game again and again and again and again and again.

Those are glory days,  Wendy Larry days worth celebrating. Breakfast tickets are $25 and can be purchased through ODU by calling (757) 683-3359.

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