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It’s time to address an issue: Lady Raider basketball fandom

A Viva the Matadors round-table about the state of women’s basketball

In recent years, Texas Tech has enjoyed a rise of the competitiveness in a number of programs. If you haven’t taken the time to read Jacob Harris’ article February 23rd, 2019: The best sports day in Texas Tech history then doing so will provide a good framework of where Texas Tech Athletics currently is. Naturally with the success that these teams have had, respect from fans grows with tangible progress of the program. But what if I told you that a program with a national championship had trouble filling even the lower bowl of the United Supermarkets Arena?

In 1993, the women’s basketball team for Texas Tech battled it out with Ohio State in the Omni Coliseum for the final round of the NCAA Tournament. Led by standout player Sheryl Swoops, the Lady Raiders took it to the Buckeyes and kept a manageable lead despite some late threes by Ohio State - winning the championship 84-82. (You can watch that entire broadcast here.) Coach Marsha Sharp went down as a Texas Tech legend, even having a highway that cuts through the heart of Lubbock named after her. In the following years of her tenure as head coach, Sharp led the Lady Raiders to twelve NCAA tournament appearances until her retirement in 2006.

Then the slump began.

Following Coach Sharp, Coach Kristy Curry took over for the Lady Raiders with a substantial resume from Purdue under her belt. In seven seasons as a Boilermaker, Curry had seven NCAA Tournament appearances and in 2001 was the runner-up after losing to Notre Dame in the championship game. Coaches Sharp and Curry met that year in the Sweet 16, where Purdue edged Tech 74-72. But Curry would not see the same success at Tech; going to the NCAA tournament twice in seven years (both first round knockouts).

In Curry’s release, Texas Tech hired an ex-Lady Raider point guard Candice Whitacre. Much like the Kingsbury hire in 2012 the athletic department held high hopes for a coach with both personal experience and affection for the team. By no surprise Coach Whitacre had a difficult time being the coach to move the needle for the depleting Lady Raider team, and failed to reach any tournament (much less higher than 8th in the conference) in her four years. This brings us up to date: Coach Marlene Stollings.

“We share the same vision. Winning again. Winning Big 12 titles again. Winning national titles again. We are going to ensure that many of the best players in the state of Texas want to be Lady Raiders again.” - Marlene Stollings

Marlene Stollings comes to Lubbock from the University of Minnesota where she coached four years; two of which she went to the NCAA tournament. This year they are currently 12-15, 3-13 in the Big 12 (9th place) with two games left in the season. After the heart-breaking loss to Iowa State on Tuesday, I took notice of something that had been there all season. This team’s heart to win games is matched by its efforts on the court, and there never seems to be an ounce of defeat in their body language even after the final buzzer.

I am greatly impressed, like most, at the success that Coach Beard has been having with the men’s basketball team. Seeing students rally together to provide the team with an absolute maddening home court advantage is encouraging and of great benefit. The 16-1 home record speaks for itself. My contention comes with the lack of interest in providing the women’s team with that same level of intensity. Dare I even say the same level of interest! To gauge what others on staff (as well as myself) think, I provided a series of questions relating to the Lady Raider basketball team. This is what the staff at Viva the Matadors had to say:

The Lady Raiders have had a rough go of it since Coach Sharp left in 2005. After Kristy Curry and Candice Whitacre, what are your impressions from Marlene Stollings in regard to how she is steering this team?

Emory: I believe that Coach Stollings has done an outstanding job with our women’s basketball program over the last 11 months. She’s brought in a new culture to the program and quickly put together a team that has the talent to compete in the Big 12.

Nathan: Stollings is interactive on social media and this team had nowhere to go but up this year. She seems to have a good history and I think she can slowly turn them around. The close losses are promising since this team was losing most games by double digits a year ago.

Dylan: I like Stollings, and while you are right in saying that she has had a rough start, The Lady Raiders have lost some very close games in conference play. I believe once coach Stollings gets the chance to bring in her own players and develop young talent like Chrislyn Carr, The Lady Raiders will be headed in the right direction.

Macon: gotta love Coach Stollings. Girls actually look prepared to play and the effort is way up. Overall I think the ship is going the right way, but this program was a nuclear apocalypse it takes time to rebuild it.

Jeramey: Coach Stollings certainly has the most tactile ambition since Sharp left. She also, to me, has that feel like ~ yeah this coach can take us to the next level. I imagine that her vision and drive will help get women’s basketball on track.

Andrea: Well, we can say Stollings has a long road ahead of her, as the team comes from many negative seasons. But I’m sure she has all the ability to improve the program.

Men’s basketball has fed a wildfire of fandom from Texas Tech alumni and students, often selling out home basketball games and traveling as far as New York to shout “raider power!” In contrast, the women’s team has had stable but comparatively dissapointing attendance at home games. Why do you think that is?

Emory: To put it bluntly - there’s a lack of marketability for a mediocre women’s basketball team. Watching WBB Big 12 games on the Fox Sports regional networks shows the same trend for every other school aside from Baylor/UT. Unfortunately today’s society is driven by wow factor and great success, and I hate to say it but Women’s basketball at Tech provides neither. The attendance has improved since last year, showing an improved culture.

Jeramey: Oh boy. - and really, oh boys - . This is a toughie because you can keep the answer simple and talk about relative markets for womens sports but then you can start sliding down the men v woman in the sports world conversation. I think there’s a level of engagement Coach Beard has created for the team that Stollings doesn’t imitate but there is also a lack of commitment by fans in Lubbock. I’ve seen yall fill out the stadium for men’s games, go to a women’s game now and then!

Andrea: Victories help, but it’s not only this, as in this case football should have an empty stadium almost all the time (i know I’m harsh, but my position is this since a long time ago). Simply the media coverage for women’s basketball AT EVERY LEVEL (including UConn & Co.) is not comparable to men’s basketball and this is a very important factor

Liz: The disappointing attendance - I don’t think there’s as much of a hype. For the men you constantly hear about theme nights and meet and greet events and all of these things to get the fans involved, but I really don’t hear about the women much. you just don’t hear about wbb the way you do with the men. Where’s the minute by minute social media updates? Where’s the game of thrones theme night?

Macon: General population isn’t interested in women’s basketball. The product is less flashy, and yeah it could be sexist over tones to that. But here’s the thing in Lubbock, if you win people will watch. So many losses has eroded any support for the lady raiders. Lubbockite love a winner and if stallings flips the script they’ll come.

Nathan: Frankly, women’s basketball is only interesting to the casual fan if they are competing for titles. There are always a few diehards, but without the casual fan you can’t sellout arenas. Bad teams don’t attract those that don’t care that much.

Dylan: Honestly, it’s just not as exciting of a product as men’s basketball. Not only that, but the lack of recent success has a lot to do with people’s interest in Lady Raider Basketball. However, I do believe Coach Stollings could engage the local community and student body as Chris Beard has done, and increase the attendance at home.

Nine conference games this year have been decided by single digits for the Lady Raiders. Do you feel like the losses show signs of progression or are they illustrative of incomplete coaching?

Nathan: I think the close losses show progress. Texas tech women’s basketball has been miserable for a while so any form of competing with other teams is progress.

Andrea: If we consider that last year’s team took slaps in the face by everyone this is without doubt a good improvement

Jeramey: F. I’ve watched almost every one of them (except the ones not on tv ??!?) and each loss is as frustrating at the next because you can see real potential for a huge W. It reminds me a lot of Coach Beard’s first season, so maybe that’s a litmus test for where the team is going?

Macon: Like I said, rebuilds take time. Love the effort and fight but it takes time to learn how to win. I expect next year we win most of those games as the depth grows and the confidence builds.

Emory: This season reminds me a ton of Coach Beard’s first in Lubbock, where the team lost nine games by single digits, including 6/9 road games and 6 games by four or less. As we know by now Beard is an outstanding coach, and simply had a core of inexperienced players with growing chemistry.

What is missing for the Lady Raiders to get back into the fight of the Big 12?

Jacob: The only thing missing is time. This team has the right coaching, right transfers, and they are building the right culture to breed winning. I think with a couple of years, this team will be a winner again.

Liz: The fans. I think the fans play a huge part in a team’s success. When fans are excited, it gets the team pumped up and easy to fight for their fans.

Macon: Depth is key, I like the transfer form uconn coming in to build up the talent. Have to have at least 7 Big12 caliber players, don’t think we have that yet.

Emory: Depth and experience. Stollings needs another year to bring in some of her level of talent, and Carr needs to develop a bit more. Unfortunately Texas and Baylor are so far ahead that in the near future the best possible finish for the Lady Raiders is likely 3rd.

Jeramey: Fans. More coached talent across the board. Time. That’s the recipe.

Andrea: Mainly talent, but the number of good players available every year is not as high as in the men, and there are some powerhouses (both in the Big 12 and not) that collect much of it.

Nathan: Couldn’t tell you. Don’t pay attention enough to know the ins and outs of the team.

What would get you as interested in Lady Raider basketball as you are interested in Red Raider basketball?

Jeramey: Seriously if more people around me got engaged with the team it would be a lot easier to stay motivated. When you’re that one guy who brings his own nachos like in semi-pro... it’s just tiring. Bring the energy Lubbock and I’ll catch it like wildfire.

Andrea: I’ll be sincere, probably only a 30+ win team

Nathan: Not a lot to be honest. Even if the team was on the level of UConn or Baylor, I wouldn’t actually sit down to watch regular season games.

Emory: A superstar player like Jarrett Culver (Chrislyn Carr has potential) and a team that is top 5 in the Big 12. And for what it’s worth I have already watched around 12 games this year, which is way more than last year. As the team and talent improves I’ll likely start watching even more. Also the television deal with FSN is nice for me to record but I hate having to watch tape delays

Jacob: Coach Beard does a great job of engaging fans. Part of the reason that I am so engaged to this team is because of the fan culture around the program and I think a great fan culture would make many more fans engaged in the team.

Macon: I’m interested now, I wish I could watch on tv. But winning will draw all the eyes.

Enter the discussion! Post your thoughts below