Joel Maturi received considerable heat during his decade as Gophers athletic director from sports traditionalists that wanted him to spend 90% of his time fretting over football and men’s basketball, and another 7.5% on men’s hockey.
I wasn’t a booster of Mr. Maturi, based mostly on his failure to bounce Dan Monson earlier in his basketball tenure, and agreeing to fire Glen Mason on a post-Insight Bowl whim and then landing on the unqualified salesman, Tim Brewster, as a replacement.
What I didn’t see as a problem was Maturi’s regular attendance at events featuring nonrevenue men’s sports and women’s events, home and often on the road.
A well-rounded athletic program and a serious commitment to women’s athletics should be seen as a source of pride, and not as a deterrent to the boys providing winning teams in football, basketball and hockey.
Maturi was moved aside in 2012 and replaced by Norwood Teague, who was 90% focused on football and basketball, and 7.5% on men’s hockey, and tolerated the rest of his programs.
We saw how that worked out.
On Sunday afternoon, there was an entertaining event at Williams Arena when Janel McCarville became the seventh women’s basketball player in Gophers history to have her jersey (No. 4) hang from the east wall in the ancient Barn.
McCarville’s nickname with Gophers fans was “Shaq,” and Lindsay Whalen was more Dwyane Wade than Kobe Bryant to this Shaq with the Gophers.
Whalen is now in her second season as Gophers coach, and she was a proponent of getting McCarville up there on that wall, along with Rachel Banham (3), Laura Coenen (44), Carol Ann Shudlick (42), Linda Roberts (21), Debbie Hunter (13) — and Lindsay herself, also 13.
Maturi was in attendance for this event, as well as a 76-67 victory over UC Davis that gave Whalen’s Gophers a nine-game winning streak in nonconference play (after an opening loss).
Whalen and McCarville were the co-stars for a 2004 Gophers team that went from being a No. 6 seed to the Final Four. Whalen had missed six weeks because of a broken right hand and returned for the start of the tournament run.
Their first two games were played at Williams Arena. On a Sunday night, a crowd of over 12,000 showed up to watch Whalen’s 31-point return and a 92-81 victory over UCLA. Two nights later, the crowd was nearly 13,500 as the Gophers defeated Kansas State 80-61 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The crowd was rabid in Williams, like old times with the men’s team. Fans weren’t there because of some Burst the Barn promotion. They were there because they had to join in the excitement.
Heck, even Sid was there.
A few minutes before the McCarville pregame ceremony, it was suggested to Maturi those two home games, and the entire run to the Final Four, gave Twin Cities sports fandom permission (for wont of a better word) to get hooked into women’s athletics.
“That might be true,” Maturi said. “It did create an excitement level with the public that we hadn’t experienced before.”
Maturi paused and said: “Janel was tremendous. This is deserved. But I’m also optimistic about Lindsay as the Gophers coach. She wasn’t the best athlete I’ve ever seen, but none better as a winner.
“Lindsay Whalen is a winner.”
On Sunday, Whalen made it clear that she saw McCarville as something even more dramatic: a life-changer.
Whalen said in both the pre-ceremony video and the event itself that the Final Four run “changed our lives,” meaning the opportunities given to her and her teammates. And there would have been no such run, if McCarville had not overpowered Kansas State’s outstanding Nicole Ohlde in the second round, then did the same to Boston College’s Kathrin Ress in a 76-63 victory in the third round.
“Janel belongs up there,” Whalen said after Sunday’s game. “It was time.”
McCarville flew in from Stockholm, where she’s coaching a youth team and playing for a senior team. And that wasn’t the only weekend flight that was adding to the Gophers’ and Maturi’s pride in women athletes.
Hugh McCutcheon’s volleyball team flew back on Sunday from Austin, Texas, where it had qualified for this week’s Final Four in Pittsburgh.
The Pavilion that houses the volleyball team is now named in honor of Maturi. And while there were many times when Mike Hebert’s successful teams drew large crowds, there are now constant sellouts in Maturi Pavilion, as more of the sporting public continues to discover it’s perfectly fine to get hooked on women’s athletics.
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