First time’s the charm
“Surreal,” I kept mumbling, as I watched the UTA cheerleaders rise against a backdrop of 50-story skyscrapers.
But this was no dream. There they were, in downtown Dallas, arms outstretched, performing lifts and stunts outside the Adolphus Hotel.
Almost as unusual was the crowd that had gathered alongside buses waiting to take the women’s basketball team to Reunion Arena for the first-round NCAA Tournament game against Texas Tech. More than 300 people lined the sidewalks, eager for their new heroes to emerge.
The fans had made their way to the street from a reception that grew so large, a bigger room was required. The scene reminded me of a pep rally as a beaming Donna Capps stepped to the microphone.
“It’s a great day to be a Maverick,” began the fifth-year head coach.
She was right. Her team was about to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance after winning its first Southland Conference regular-season and tournament titles. The players had become media darlings and gained national TV exposure for the program and the University.
“Winds of change are blowing at UTA,” she continued.
Right again. The crowd proved it. By tipoff, the 300-plus had been joined by several thousand others. “The gritty Mavericks were able to feed off a noisy local crowd that gave them home-court advantage,” said a Star-Telegram article. And this from The Dallas Morning News: “UTA fans seemed to be everywhere.”
That they lost the game later that night was irrelevant in the big scheme. These players and coaches had put UTA on the women’s college basketball map.
Halfway through the season, it hit me that this team might be special.
“Please shoot women’s basketball as much as your schedule permits,” I e-mailed photographer Robert Crosby on Jan. 20. “I think the team has a good chance to make the NCAA Tournament and want to make sure we have ample coverage in the magazine and for other publications.”
Robert photographed every home game after that and even traveled on the team bus to Stephen F. Austin and UT San Antonio. Joel Quintans joined Robert and me on the trip to Monroe, La., for the Southland Conference Tournament championship game. A 60-54 victory over Louisiana-Monroe earned the Mavericks their historic NCAA bid.
And it gave us our cover story.
From more than 1,000 images, we selected 30. That was still too many for a six-page photo essay. So we added a foldout—a first for UTA Magazine. It seemed fitting. A special team deserves special treatment.
Just like it received on that March night in Dallas.
“It was inspirational,” Athletics Director Pete Carlon said of the Big D downtown scene. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my 24 years here.”
Bet it won’t take another 24 to see something similar.
— Mark Permenter