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December 30, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Best of the decade: A look back at Northwest women’s hoops

LJAthensDream.jpgNearly everyone is getting all gushy in their looks back at the new millennium’s first decade. But I kind of have a similar feeling as Sports Illustrated’s Ann Killion when thinking about women in sports.
I remember the sense of “Girl Power” when I graduated from college, even though I hated the term “girl” for anyone over age 18. There was the dominance of women at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the emergence of the WNBA. More women were entering the field of sports reporting and I thought we were on our way to true gender equality.
But as Killion writes, this decade didn’t turn out to be the rise anticipated or even a battle of the sexes. Just a mere battle of who’s sexiest. Add to that all the battles from Serena Williams and line judges to Candace Parker and Plenette Pierson.
We didn’t need reality television shows like “The Bad Girls Club” to show we can be just as nasty as men, our athletes did a fine job themselves. It makes you wonder where it’s all headed.
Yet, in the midst of questionable behavior that doesn’t exactly belt “empowerment,” there were plenty of highlights. Especially around the Northwest. Here are the 10 best moments I think of when reflecting on the past decade covering women’s hoops in the area.
Please share your faves (and note Garfield High was omitted in favor of Gonzaga).
10. Former Washington standout Kayla Burt: Since 2002, no New Year’s has passed without thinking about the frightful night UW teammates spent with G Kayla Burt as she suffered a cardiac arrest, originally thought to be career ending. Burt, diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, returned to play in 2004 and was awarded the ESPY for “Best Comeback.” She was an inspiration to the Huskies program.
9. The 2000-01 UW team: Unlike the men, the women’s UW program appears to be flat lining or a steady decline this decade. The height was the 2000-01 season when former coach June Daugherty led the team to a 104-87 Elite Eight loss to SW Missouri State. Current assistant coach Loree Payne starred with Giuliana Mendiola, averaging 11.4 and 11.1 points, respectively. But UW is closing the decade with a 5-5 record, losing to the likes of Sacramento State. And no one will forget last season’s historic 77-point loss at Stanford (112-35) — a Pac-10 record.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs: You could argue Seattle Pacific needing to be on the list, but I’m putting the Zags’ 2008-09 campaign as reason why they’re the top team in the Northwest and deserving to trump anyone else. Kentwood High’s Courtney Vandersloot showed she’s the truth in leading her team to a fifth West Coast Conference title and NCAA first-round when against higher-seed Xavier. The Bulldogs put a scare in Pitt in the second round, but I expect them to be back for more this season.
7. Former UW star Kristen O’Neill: The Meadowdale High product was not the school’s top player. Shoot, she’d barely make a UW all-decade team behind the likes of Mendiola, Payne, Megan Franza, Cameo Hicks, and Andrea Lalum. But O’Neill remains only the third Huskies alum to break into the WNBA, joining Jamie Redd, who starred at UW from 1995-1999 and Mendiola, who played six games for defunct Sacramento in 2004. O’Neill appeared in 11 games for the Storm in 2008 and there was something special about having a local on the roster. Even though she was cut more than cake only to be signed, again. O’Neill opted not to attend training camp in 2009 due to a knee injury suffered while playing in Ireland. She’s currently an assistant coach at Seattle University.
6. UW defeats SU 58-53: True, these schools have played before. But due to Washington’s decline in attendance, last year’s game didn’t have the electric feel of the Dec. 9 matchup at the Connolly Center. The 1,050-seat facility sold out and the atmosphere gave the sense of a rebirth. Well, for SU anyway; which is beginning the trek back to Division-I under new coach Joan Bonvicini.
5. Nude Photos: On a personal note, few moments could top covering my father’s first NCAA berth. One is walking out of the Storm locker room following a win flanked by then-assistant coach Jenny Boucek and Lauren Jackson as both discussed Jackson’s pictorial in the Australian photo magazine called Black+White (pictured above). She’s Australian, so the are cultural differences, but she really put the WNBA on the map. A stream of men bought tickets to the next Storm home game after the news broke and it’s still on of the first items to pop up on a Google search today. Does Jackson mind? Nope. And for the record, neither does teammate Sue Bird and her photo shoot for Slam magazine. Although Bird wasn’t nude — unless you count that skimpy bikini.
4. Lauren Jackson–Lisa Leslie: As a reporter, I was often stuck in the middle of this feud. It was as classic as any other sport could deliver with Leslie often getting the edge with two WNBA titles and all the Olympic gold medals. Injured, Jackson didn’t get to play against Leslie in her final game at KeyArena, but still took the time to tell her if things had been different, they would have been friends. No matter, as long as the games stayed as entertaining.
3. Getting the Storm: A chill races up the spine when I think of what winters around here would be like without the Storm — especially since the Sonics are gone. I love any kind of basketball, but as for women, if Washington flops, we can all look forward to the pros. It took time to melt the icy reception after the ABL folded, but slowly the Storm, which celebrated its 10th season last summer, is helping to cultivate women’s hoops in the area like the Sonics did for 41 years.
2. Force 10 Hoops, LLC: Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer is in the midst of an interesting series about fans in the area and today’s installment is about the Storm. The ultimate of fandom has to be putting your money down and four local businesswomen did so to the tune of $10 million in 2008 to keep the Storm in Seattle. And it wasn’t easy. As seen with Tulsa buying the Detroit Shock, former owner Clay Bennett wanted the WNBA team in Oklahoma. His business partner, Bill Cameron, just had to make other plans. The rock-star-like reception Force 10 Hoops receive at games is incredible. They continue to give hope that pro women’s basketball in America can work.
1. 2004 WNBA championship: Seattle has only won two titles and one came from the Storm. From Betty Lennox to the parade to Westlake Center, you can’t get any better than winning a title in your league. The only problem is it happened too long ago. But with another decade set to begin with Bird and Jackson (verbal) already under contract, Storm fans can dream.

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