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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, February 23, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Lady Pirates, please accept my apologies

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Every time a new flash of good news has been heralded from the East Carolina womenís basketball program in recent weeks, I have seen her face in my mindís eye.

With the way her team has performed since our conversation, Jasmine Young has successfully planted herself into my subconscious.

I was over at the Murphy Center about three weeks ago, interviewing Young and Cherie Mills for a feature story. Youngís initial reception of me was a bit unexpected. She sat sideways in her chair frowning while I introduced myself and told her that I was working for the Pirate Club publication.

ďAre they going to come to our games?Ē she asked, still not meeting my eye.

I stammered around a little, explaining that I didnít know if more fans would decided to catch the Lady Pirates, but that publicity like the article could only help. I told her that I would try to come to one of their games personally before the season ended.

I didnít hold up my end of the bargain. My crazy life intervened, and suddenly I heard last weekend that ECU had just played its final home game. Augmenting my guilt about my broken promise is this undeniable fact: This is a team that has swept right past fan apathy on the way to exceeding every expectation.

Six consecutive wins, all in Conference USA. That streak, capped last night with a 68-52 drubbing of Southern Miss, is the longest C-USA winning streak in the history of the program. Center Cherie Mills was named conference player of the week this week, marking the first time since 2005 that a team member has been honored by the conference.

In short, the Lady Pirates (15-13, 10-5 C-USA), have owned everything that the menís team could only hope to grasp: Photo finishes in tough contests, strength and chemistry as the postseason approaches and now, guaranteed with yesterdayís Southern Miss win, a bye in the first round of this weekendís Conference USA tournament.

Itís enough to warrant a standing ovation, if only fans were showing up to give one. As Jasmine observed, the team's home crowds have been underwhelming this season, even when widespread frustration with the menís team should have sent true Pirates scurrying for brighter horizons.

If they had visited Minges for the final home game on Saturday, they could have witnessed the Pirates breaking Tulaneís 10-game winning streak with highlights like 80 percent accuracy from the free-throw line. They would have had plenty to cheer about, and they wouldnít have had to spend a minute worrying about whether they should wear a bag on their heads.

Remember, Iím guilty too. Jasmine Young, who scored a career-high 29 points in last nightís Southern Miss triumph, got to the heart of the matter that day in the Murphy Center when she said, ďPeople just donít think the womenís game is as exciting as the menís.Ē

As a female sportswriter, I should know better than that. As the daughter of two Tennessee alumni, I should really know better. But I am still biased toward the type of menís competition that makes March Madness my favorite, bar-none sporting event of the year.

Maybe the striking imbalance between the women and the men with their 13-game losing streak can teach us all a thing or two as the regular season winds down on Saturday. Take a moment, as you decide whether to attend the menís game against Texas-El Paso Saturday night, to check the results of the womenís road game against Central Florida.

Itís too late for me to truly redeem myself, Jasmine, but I hope youíll accept my good-faith assurance that I will pay closer attention from now on. Next week youíll be far away, in Tulsa for your conference tournament, trying to lengthen your teamís foray into places where no ECU womenís team has gone before.

And next fall, when schedules and preseason talk begins, I will pick two or three games and write them directly into my calendar. In pen.

Iím just thankful that Jasmine is only a sophomore.

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02/23/2007 01:14:38 AM

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