There’s something going on in women’s sports, and it’s just in time

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Pop/Life, Sports

photo from Indiana Capital Chronicle/Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Standing on the 17th tee on Saturday, England’s Lottie Woad was one shot behind American golfer, Bailey Shoemaker in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Shoemaker had finished her bogey-free 66 about an hour earlier and was staying loose on the range in case anyone caught her and a playoff became necessary. 

Woad coolly birdied 17 and 18 for the comeback victory. And when I say cool, I mean it. I found myself standing in front of my TV as she made the winner. The gallery around the final hole was enormous, exploding as the ball fell. 

Something is happening in the world of sports. Finally. And thankfully, there is no turning back.

Women’s sports hitting stride

I watched more women’s college basketball than men’s this year. My transition started a few years ago when some high school friends of mine had an all-star daughter commit to play for Teri Moren at IU. She was good. The whole team was good. And the program has grown into something great. 

Then came February 22nd of this year. I wanted to see IU play Iowa and Caitlin Clark in Bloomington. The cheapest tickets on the secondary market were going for $125 a piece for an unreserved seat on a Thursday night. Students waited outside for hours to get in, and I just got lucky. A friend got me a seat in the bleachers behind the basket. Watching the beatdown our Hoosiers put on them that night is one of the most memorable sporting events of my life. And I’ve been to a Super Bowl.

For me, the competition is the primary attraction to whatever game I’m watching. But women’s college basketball has been a better display of the game’s fundamentals, in my opinion, for a long time. You know, it looks more like the way kids in Indiana are taught to play the game from the start. So, when I watch IU’s Mackenzie Holmes move without the ball, I feel myself nodding. It looks familiar to me. It makes sense to me. 

And then when I see her lead the whole team into the student section at a packed Simon Skodt Assembly Hall to celebrate the team’s trip to the Sweet Sixteen, I am exhilarated by the collective’s hard-earned joy.  

Coach Moren is special. She’s two years younger than me, we work at the same place, and if I saw her walk into a room, I’d sit up straight. But she’s not alone. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has the same kind of charisma. When she speaks, I’m going to listen. And then there’s Iowa’s coach, Lisa Bluder. 

The future

Bluder has coached the Hawkeyes for 24 years, and she is the winningest coach in Big Ten history. It was striking to see her deliver the bad news to one of her other star players, Molly Davis, that her injury would cause her to miss the Final Four. It was video that shouldn’t have been made. It was an emotional and private moment. But it displayed the kind of connection every coach should want to have while helping mold a young person’s life. Then Bluder subbed her in at the end of Sunday’s championship loss anyway. 

I went alone to the Iowa game back in February. In front of me was a mom and rabid Hoosier fan, with her 12-year-old daughter. The mom stood for half the game, occasionally blocking my view. The daughter relentlessly tugged at her mom’s jacket, trying to get her to sit down and quit blocking those behind her. I finally leaned up and told the girl, “She’s not bothering us.” The grin on her face told me, “She is embarrassing me.” 

As the clock was winding down and it was clear that IU was going to upset the Hawkeyes, I heard the little girl tell her mom that when she hears the final buzzer, she was going to charge the floor.

I said to her, “You didn’t want your mom blocking our view, but you’re planning on running out there?” She looked back at me with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen and sternly said, “Yes, I am.” 

So, I told her, “If you go, I’m going with you.”

Security was on the job. None of us charged the floor that night. It’s probably best. 

Martha Burk led the now famous protest of Augusta National, formerly, one of the world’s most famous all-male clubs, in 2003. Nine years later, the club admitted its first two women members. One of them is former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who annually presents the trophy to the women’s amateur champion, now in its fifth year.

Sports are better today than they once were. Predictably, it’s women who made it happen. 

1 Comment

  1. Bill Bailey

    I think because the NBA has become such a 3-point dominated game, the men’s college game has become a weave, throw up a 3 NBA feeder game. With very few exceptions, women’s college basketball is still a game of strategy and in the paint effort. Much more fun to watch.

    Reply

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