Remember the ecstasy being doled out on the corner of Bleecker and Mercer streets a few years ago? No, not the drug the rapture that came with the NYU women's basketball team capturing the NCAA Division III championship, the packed Coles center, and a squad thrust into the New York media spotlight. Well, that championship high might be returning.
The Violets, 10-1 as of press time, and ranked in Division III's Top 15, look to some key February matchups in their run at the Final Four, hosted this year by Western Connecticut. With a lone loss against Salem State in the season's first game, one in which star forward Jehan Clark played with the flu, the team has ravaged its opponents in its 10 victories, winning by an average of 23.4 points a game. And while they've had a relatively light schedule so far, the Violets have been able to use these "tests" to work on their game.
"Last year, the team suffered, playing in the shadow of the previous year's team," head coach Janice Quinn notes. "It's different this year because it's not 'eyes on the prize,' but one game at a time. As a team, we're possibly more balanced than we were during the year when we won. These kids are younger [only two seniors] and they're still learning."
"The main difference between last year and this year is that we've matured as players," says Clark, the only remaining starter from the '96-'97 team. "We play defense, execute well, and talk on the floor. That's what makes us successful."
Displaying her championship ring, featuring a violet stone in its center, Quinn beams when discussing those March days when her team was at the center of the Big Apple sports scene. "It was priceless. The championship was a once in a lifetime experience," she says. "I just hope it's not."
Winning at NYU used to be as scarce as grass on the NYU campus that is, until Quinn appeared. The Lady Violets went winless for six seasons during the '70s. It was Quinn, as a player, who was partly responsible for the team's turnaround. As an honors student in economics, she was part of the '83'84 team that gave NYU its first winning season in 22 years. A year later, she was voted team MVP in the school's first-ever 20-win season. From there, Quinn went on to NYU's Wagner School of Public Service and a two-year stint as assistant coach before getting the call.
Twelve years later, Quinn has taken the team to six straight Sweet Sixteens, including a trip to the Final Four in 1996 and the legendary 1997 championship. As head coach, she's compiled a 243-72 record.
This year's team is so dominant, it's even attracting graduates from its championship season, as both Marsha Harris and Jen Krolikowski oft attend home games. It was Krolikowski's heart-stopping 17-foot jumper followed by Harris's last-second layup that won the title two years ago. The two former all-Americans are one-two on NYU's career scoring list.
"This team is a lot different than ours," says Krolikowski, walking around the gym. "Their passing is a lot better than ours was and they're a very exciting team to watch."
While the Violets are not exactly the Lady Vols of Tennessee, some are surprised at the lack of local interest. Then again, perhaps it's a New York thing. "Communitywise, we'd love to have more interest, but it's really just the students [who come] right now," says Sean Dillon, NYU's sports information director. "But when the playoffs come around, the team sells out. And those that do come wait to cheer until the last two minutes of the game. It's just like the Knicks games."
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