Canes in NCAA Tourney: The Veteran of Firsts

March 19, 2011



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By Chris Freet, Associate AD

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — After the Miami women’s basketball team defeated Georgia Tech in the regular season finale and clinched at least a share of the regular season ACC Championship, the radio crew asked head coach Katie Meier about whether or not her team would wait for the conclusion of the North Carolina-Duke game to celebrate a potential outright championship.

“We’re going back to the locker room and celebrating right now,” said Meier. “We are not waiting on anything.  We have celebrated firsts all season and this is the first ACC Championship for the University of Miami. We’ll take the party all the way back to Coral Gables.”

In a great oxymoron that only makes sense in sports, the success of the 27-4 and No. 3 seed `Canes has come because Meier is a veteran of `firsts’.

It Started As A Player
When she was an All-ACC player at Duke in 1986, Meier led the Blue Devils to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. 

“I was excited and happy for Duke,” said Meier. “The program had never been and I was just happy that I could be a piece of achieving that milestone.”

And on the typical pregame nerves for Meier in her first tourney game as a player, “I had a triple-double in our win over Manhattan. It was the first ever triple-double in Duke history.”

She was a veteran of firsts before she even became a coach.

It Continued As A Coach
In her second coaching job, as an assistant at Tulane, coach Meier and the Green Wave went on the best run in program history… and they did not waste any time.

Tulane had never been to the NCAA Tournament and in my first year on staff, we went,” said Meier. “And then we went back to the NCAA Tournament for seven straight seasons.”

The Green Wave didn’t have the luxury of Meier in the post, but, “we were playing on Texas Tech’s court, in front a great crowd and we gave them a good fight.”

At Charlotte in her first stint as a head coach, the `Canes mentor was up to her old tricks.  She led the 49ers to their first NCAA Tournament in 2003. 

Embracing Firsts At The U
For the U, it is not the first time they have been in the NCAA Tournament.  UM has played in seven tournaments with the last appearance in 2004. 

But it is the first appearance as an ACC member.  It is the first appearance under Meier’s leadership at UM.  It is the first NCAA Tournament game for every active member of the team.

[NOTE: Transfer Shawnice Wilson played in the 2009 NCAA Tournament while at Pitt, but is sitting out this season and not traveling with the team.]

And where many coaches in a similar situation would say, `act like you have been here’, Meier is the opposite.

Take this story as an example.

“I jumped over the couch,” said Meier, recalling Tulane’s first NCAA Tournament selection.  “We didn’t think we were in the tournament. We weren’t watching the selection show and I had no idea until my brother called me.”

Her detailed recollection of, “jumping over the couch,” is how she is leading her team and the reason the `Canes are one of the best stories in college basketball.

Live in the moment.

Enjoy the process.

Celebrate the little and big victories. 

Don’t be afraid to act like you are experiencing this for the first time.

“We won’t act like veterans because we aren’t,” said Meier during her first NCAA Tournament press conference at Miami. “We’re going to embrace the uniqueness, the newness. We are going to keep celebrating the firsts because we always have [in the past].  That is what we have done all season long and what we will continue to do.”

And it’s why by many media accounts Miami has gone from newbie, to a team many are expecting to have a great tournament run.

“Don’t downplay big moments,” said Meier.  “Don’t be tight because you’re acting like you aren’t excited to be in your first NCAA Tournament. Enjoy it and live in the moment.”

This is why the `Canes women’s basketball team has a chance to write an unforgettable chapter in Miami’s great athletics history and because Meier is a master of new and a veteran of firsts.

Notes from the NCAA Tournament
> Assistant coach Carolyn Kieger said she believes the Canes style of play has helped the team overcome the pregame jitters than can find their way into the beginning of the games and could bode well on Sunday at Noon when the `Canes play Gardner-Webb.

“We come out with an aggressive style of play,” said Kieger.  “It’s free-flowing basketball. You don’t have to worry about who is going to take a shot, they don’t have to overthink.”

> When asked about any memories of playing at Virginia, the site of the First and Second Rounds, during her college career Meier retold a classic story:

“I went diving out of bounds for a ball and there were about 10 rows of chairs right off the court.  I leaped over row one, row two, row three and stayed on my feet.  It was one of those moments where you could hear the crowd gasp and hold their breath.  So when I regained my momentum and turn around towards the court I could feel the whole arena watching me.  Unfortunately, the play was coming back at me and I had to get back on defense.  So I attempted to leap back over row three, row two and was successful until the final row of chairs.  I failed on that last row and literally went tumbling back onto the court. There were chairs everywhere on the court. They had to stop the game and everything. 

“I was walking into the new arena (John Paul Jones Arena) this morning and one of the security guards remembered me from that game.

“It was embarrassing then but now I can look back and laugh.”

> Miami began the day with a press conference at John Paul Jones Arena, which may be one of the finest venues in America.  After the press conference, the Canes held a 90-minute practice on the arena floor.

The biggest event of the day was the fact that Shenise Johnson had to leave practice after taking an inadvertent shoulder to the face during a drill thanks to assistant coach Darrick Gibbs.  Johnson’s bottom lip split open and she had to get stitches before returning to the floor.

“It didn’t hurt,” said Johnson, who experienced stitches for the first time in her life.  “The worst part was the needle.  I am scared to death of needles.”

After practice, Johnson, Meier and Riquana Johnson had an interview session with the ESPN TV crew and then completed their time on campus with a little more practice at historic University Hall.