Playbook: A day with the Lady Rockets

Since the fall of 2008, The University of Toledo women’s basketball team has won 160 games, the Mid American Conference league title twice and, in 2011, the Women’s National Invitational Tournament against teams from across the country. And the team’s fans are loyal,  consistently ranked top 30 in the country for highest attendance, and breaking the record for single game attendance for the Mid-American Conference with 7,301 spectators — the maximum capacity for  UT’s Savage Arena.

A Toledo team

“We feel very blessed,” said Coach Tricia Cullop when I asked her about the team’s high fan attendance. 

Coach Cullop began at Toledo in 2008, and immediately became involved in the community through her  players with community service and volunteer projects, welcoming fans to join in the activities and practices. All practices are open to the public, and a handful of lucky fans get to hang out with the team on game days. “It is a great way for us to give back and invite people in,” said Katie Griggs, the team’s Director of Operations. 

Morning with the team

It was 8:30 in the morning, and the team’s coordinator of operations, Lauren Flaum, met me in the lobby of Savage Arena. The team was already on the court taking shots. Each coach walked over and introducing themselves. They brought me over to shout, “Go Team!”, with the players and start the pregame drills and walk-through.

We watched Coach Cullop pull aside the five starters, from Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, and London, England (next year’s team will include players from Finland and Italy). The drills were intense.  Players shouted. Shoes squeaked. And when Coach Cullop signalled, everyone became immediately silent and listened to what she had to say.

After an hour of drills, I walked up to the Grogan Room for a French toast buffet with the team. We ate and watched video compilations from the opponent’s recent games to prepare for the afternoon game against Western Michigan. After breakfast, Coach Cullop dismissed the team for a few hours of free time. I was told to come back that afternoon an hour before the game.

The game 

I stood in the back of the locker room while the team listened to Coach Cullop’s game plan. The room is comfy, with leather couches, padded chairs, and a big TV with an Xbox alongside the trophy case. The team looked focused and excited as I walked out with them for the pregame warm-up. With 45 minutes to go before tip-off, fans were already filling the seats.

The game was thrilling. Tied with Western Michigan at halftime, the teams continued to trade leads. Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott, a smooth-moving guard from London, and last year’s MAC freshman of the year, led the team with 24 points. Brenae Harris, a sharp pull-up jump-shooter, was hitting difficult shots undermining Western’s momentum.  

Western Michigan’s Jessica Jessing, a dominant 6’3” senior from Sylvania Northview, fouled out in the closing minutes. Toledo took a 74-73 lead with 36 seconds left, and held on for the win.  

After each home game, the players head into the stands to hug family and friends, and shake hands with fans. Coach Cullop began a post-game radio interview that was played over the arena’s speakers. After the first question, she stated, “Before I answer that, I want to thank all 4,100 people who came out.” Cullop and her team are used to having thousands of fans cheer them on each game, but they are hardly taking it for granted.

For More Information, contact Lauren Flaum at [email protected]

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Dorian Slaybod is an attorney happily living in Toledo.

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