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The 9th annual Maggie Dixon Classic (has it really been that long?) was another great event. First, and foremost, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves exactly who was Maggie was and the powerful impact she made in such a brief time.

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“In a house of leaders, she stood out.”

– Army Superintendent Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr.

 

I became aware of Army women’s basketball after they played UConn on December 31st, 2005. Back then, the Huskies were broadcast on CPTV, and the broadcast team of Bob Picozzi and Megan Pattyson made a effort to speak to the opposition’s coaches about their program and share that with viewers. I was intrigued by what I heard and, in what became an ongoing effort to diversify my women’s basketball awareness, I started following the team. As they started winning, so did others.

From Ira Berkow: West Point Is Standing at Attention for Army Women’s Coach

Dixon, who credits her assistant Dave Magarity with easing the transition, was named Patriot League coach of the year. Now Army, seeded 15th, is preparing to face second-seeded Tennessee on Sunday in Norfolk, Va. On Friday, Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh will face Kent State in the first round of the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament.

Part of the interview process at Army had Dixon meeting with the team. ”It was lunchtime, and they had just come in from formation, wearing their blue-and-gray uniforms, and a few of them had sabers dangling at their sides,” Dixon recalled recently. ”It was very impressive. Then one of the women proceeded to open her cellophane-wrapped sandwich with the saber. I was taken aback for a moment, but then she, and the others, laughed. I thought, ‘I just might like this place.’ ”

From Adrian Wojnarowski, March 17, 2006: Army coach is just like her team: tough when it counts

There were a lot of people thinking that, at 28 years old, she was looking for trouble. Deep down, she believed something else. Yes, she was sold on the possibilities of West Point. Mostly, she was sold on herself.

“I thought this was an opportunity of a lifetime, but people wondered, how are you going to recruit there?” Dixon says. “How will you do it? To me, this is an institution that just has so much to offer.”

Five months and 20 victories later, it’s strange how the perspective of coaching women’s basketball at the United States Military Academy changes as you’re sitting on the shoulders of the Long Gray Line, bobbing in the air at Christl Arena after the Patriot League Championship game, a scene unlike anything ever witnessed in West Point basketball.

Why did she take this job?

From the AP, I’m guessing Doug, April 6, 2006: Army enjoying newfound fame

Army’s women’s basketball team is becoming quite the craze as the huge underdogs prepare to meet Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Not only at West Point, where the players and coach Maggie Dixon were carried off the court by cadets after winning the Patriot League tournament to earn their first NCAA berth, but seemingly everywhere they go these days.

At a restaurant in Virginia on Friday night, fans yelled “Go Army” as the team shuffled in. Supporters honk, yell and wave from cars when they see the team outside.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Megan Vrabel said Saturday. “Absolutely amazing.”

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And then, suddenly, horribly: Maggie Dixon, Army Women’s Basketball Coach, Is Dead at 28

From Adrian, April 17th: Dixon’s death cuts short a championship-caliber life

Maggie Dixon had been a storybook coach of the storybook season, hired from DePaul just days before the start of preseason practice, winning 20 games and making her brother and her the first siblings ever to make the NCAA Tournaments together as coaches. “This is such a great story,” she said that day in the hotel suite.

And without warning — without anything but the cruelest of fates — the Dixon family was back together on Thursday at the Westchester Medical Center where the most vicious of nightmares was unfolding. Maggie Dixon, 28, suffered an arrhythmia heart episode on Wednesday at West Point, leaving her in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Thursday night, she died at age 28.

Maggie’s death sent shockwaves of grief across the West Point campus and through the ranks of women’s basketball who’d so embraced her and the women she coached. But years later, her influence was still being felt as ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill chronicled in 2011: Maggie Dixon still revered for her impact – Five years after her death, the Army coach continues to touch peoples’ lives

Mallette, a captain on Maggie’s one-and-only team at Army, is married now and lives in Albany, N.Y., where she’s finishing up her first year of law school. She’s the only one from the 2005-06 squad not on active duty, long ago forced into a medical discharge. Her bad back allowed her one of the closest views to Coach Dixon, which is the only name they call her to this day. Coach Dixon saw how much Mallette loved the game, how much she was hurting. She let her play sparingly — enough to feel part of the team — and the rest of the time, Mallette sat beside her to watch and learn. They were all so young. Maggie was only six years older than Mallette, kind of like a big sister or a cool aunt.

“She’s somebody you meet for five minutes and feel like you have a best friend forever,” Mallette says. “She had that aura about her. You got drawn in, and you didn’t want to let go.”

This is a story about a woman who died too young, but still has been able to influence so many, even five years after her death. People like Mallette, who, despite her doubts, still picked up that phone and called the California area code to Dixon’s parents. Would they remember her? Would they approve of her request?

Read Merrill’s piece, and you’ll realize how extraordinary Maggie’s family is. Consider all they’ve done since their daughter/sister’s death: Maggie’s Legacy

Since then, Jamie, their sister Julie Dixon Silva and parents Marge and Jimmy Dixon established the Maggie Dixon Foundation, which works to promote women’s collegiate basketball and “to bring awareness to sudden cardiac arrest among young people, especially athletes.” The Foundation hosts the Maggie Dixon Classic, which began at West Point and is now conducted annually at Madison Square Garden. “We wanted it to be the premier women’s basketball event in the country, and it quickly became that,” says Jamie.

They also host the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair. “Once we established the Maggie Dixon Classic and had a venue, we quickly recognized we should create a heart health fair. We saw an opportunity to promote heart health (diet and exercise), heart screening and SCA awareness, including CPR-AED training.”

If you feel moved to do so, I invite you to donate in support of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

I can’t imagine their pain will ever go away, and yet every year they show up to an event that can only remind them of their loss. And every year they are gracious and generous to those they know and total strangers who reach out to them. I should know, because I had a chance to speak briefly with Maggie’s sister, Julie.

This year’s Classic not only honored Maggie’s legacy, but women’s basketball past – a game with a direct link to UConn’s head coach. From Doug, Maggie Dixon Classic honors history of women’s hoops at MSG

Geno Auriemma fondly remembers one of his first trips to Madison Square Garden when he was an assistant at Saint Joseph’s.

He was given $20 to take the train to New York from Philadelphia and scout Immaculata and Queens College. The two schools were the powers in women’s basketball at the time. Only a few years earlier, those two schools played in the first women’s game at MSG in 1975 in front of nearly 12,000 fans.

That game was part of a men’s-women’s doubleheader on Feb. 22. Most of the fans had left the building by the half of the men’s game between Fairfield and UMass having seen the thrilling 65-61 win by Immaculata.

As for the games played yesterday, UConn v. St. John’s was the “featured” matchup, but I very much enjoyed the Immaculata v. Queens College game. It reminded me that, Division I, II, III, NAIA, or Junior College, there are women who play college basketball with passion and skill.

Appropriately enough, the IU/QC game report from Queenie: Maggie Dixon Classic: Rowland powers Queens in historic rematch. No, there were no nuns with buckets, but here was a fabulous, joyous moment:
There will never be anything not awesome about dancing nuns in college sweatshirts.
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Lots of people there for both teams, and I loved it. There’s something subconsciously dissonant about nuns wearing college sweatshirts with their coifs, but it’s a good kind of dissonance. (After the second game, I saw some of them being taken on a tour of the Garden. Strangely adorable.)
At halftime of the game, the members of the Queens and Immaculata teams who played in first women’s basketball game at Madison Square Garden in 1975 were honored (Again, thank you Harvey, for the lovely article). It was incredibly moving to watch Olympian Gail Marquis (1976), Queens College coach Lucille Kyvallos, former WNBA presidency Donna Orender and their friends-teammates-supporters walk the red carpet and be celebrated.

If ever there was a link between the formative past of women’s college basketball and its fanciful present, it was when the teams from Connecticut and Immaculata came together Sunday between games of the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Immaculata had just been defeated by Queens, 76-60, in a 40-years-later rematch between the teams that played the first women’s college game at the Garden in February 1975. Connecticut, the dominant team of its time and the holder of a record nine national championships, was about to run its record to 12-1 by handling stubborn St. John’s, 70-54.

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Stewart is especially long and elastic, an athletic wonder who has made an impression on Lucille Kyvallos, the coach of Queens in the 1975 Garden game, which Immaculata won.

At 82, Kyvallos flew in from Florida to reunite with several of her former players, who were introduced at halftime of the morning opener. She said she was avid viewer of the women’s game on television, especially of Connecticut and Stewart.

“She’s so long,” Kyvallos said. “She does things we couldn’t imagine women doing when I was coaching.”

More on the Husky/Red Storm game:
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to play in the Martin Luther King game for it seems like the last 20 years and the Jimmy V Classic, too. Both are huge, very important. But this game is more personal for me because I knew Maggie and I know her family.”
The 9th annual Maggie Dixon Classic was full of complementing images and emotions: Young Division I athletes, on scholarships that came about because of Title IX, competing with the promise of professional careers as a possibility. Young Division II and III athletes competing because they love the game and understand the immeasurable benefits of being part of a team. Women, forty years their senior, watching the results of a future the only glimpsed when Patsy Mink, Edith Green, Birch Bayh and all of those who fought (and continue to fight) to pass and uphold the federal statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded schools.
But it will always be rooted in Maggie’s story. From Brian Koonz: When the message is bigger than the game, Post
There are moments in sports when the message, and very often the messenger, are bigger than the game.
 
Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden was one of those moments.
 
Except for No. 2 UConn’s predictable 70-54 victory over St. John’s in the Maggie Dixon Classic, this day was all about the unexpected.
 
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Dixon’s death, a weeping, black armband for women’s college basketball. The game still mourns Dixon, the Army coach who climbed a stepladder at West Point and cut down a comet, all the way to the program’s first NCAA tournament berth.

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Kim to Michigan.

The Big East coaches are getting picked off one by one.

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From Michelle: Dawn Staley ready for mentor – Stanford’s VanDerveer taught South Carolina coach on Team USA

Coaches are sometimes reluctant to be completely honest with star players. That, however, was never an issue between Tara VanDerveer and Dawn Staley.

“I was hard on Dawn,” VanDerveer, the Stanford coach, said Friday. “I’ve always said, sometimes a lot of the great players get the worst coaches, because no one wants to tell them anything. But I was always very direct with Dawn and I think she appreciated it.”

Yes, if appreciation can be gleaned out of the intense desire to prove somebody wrong. Intense desire. How better to sum up Staley?

Mechelle: Goodrich leads way for Jayhawks

Way too many athletes have torn an ACL more than once. Sometimes it’s in the same knee; sometimes it hits both. The second time around is worse than the first for a lot of them, because they know exactly how difficult rehab is going to be and the dread factor sets in right away.

But it was the opposite for Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich. Her first was worst. When she did it the second time, she already knew she could get through it.

And look how far past all that she has come. Now a redshirt junior, Goodrich has found her voice as a leader for a KU team that has made the most out of the NCAA selection committee’s decision to give the Jayhawks a berth into the tournament.

And Michelle: Da’Shena Stevens leads St. John’s

Da’Shena Stevens went into surgery last Aug. 10, a simple little meniscus cleanup that was supposed to keep her out a month or so, back in time for the start of practice.

But when she came out of surgery, the news was a little different. The procedure was more extensive and Stevens, St. John’s senior leader and tone-setter, would be out for four months.

Stevens and Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico both cried that day.

“The only thing to do was cry,” Stevens said. “I was sorry and depressed and then the only thing to do was wait until December.”

“It just turned everything different going into the season,” Barnes Arico said.

And Mechelle: WSC Radio Show: March 23, 2012: Brenda and Mechelle preview the Sweet 16

From the Bellingham Herald: Kansas’ Goodrich having a breakthrough in first NCAA women’s tournament

From the AP’s Janie McCauley: VanDerveer and Staley have long history
From the AP’s Jeffrey Collins: Fans suddenly flock to successful South Carolina
From the Centre Daily: PSU rising to standard

Although the tournament selection committee relies heavily on numbers like RPI and strength of schedule, year after year those numbers prove to fall short in actually measuring quality of play leading up to the tournament.

While there is not really any statistical Holy Grail to predict how March Madness will unfold, in looking at potential upsets prior to the 2012 NCAA women’s basketball tournament we took a look at potential upsets bracket by bracket by looking at performance rather than outcomes. Of course, saying there’s potential for an upset is different than saying it will happen are two different things – not many upsets actually occurred although a number of those games ended up close and one could certainly argue that home court advantage foiled a few of those potential upsets.

Anyway, those initial previews were based upon a set of Four Factors stats that I alluded to but didn’t post initially. The following is just a brief look back at those numbers before making some Sweet 16 predictions.

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Top NCAA women’s seeds could be tested on road

Putting together the NCAA bracket is one giant jigsaw puzzle. The selection committee tries to make every piece fit using a certain list of procedures and principles.

This year, the group was in a bind because many of the host schools for the opening two rounds were going to be seeded in the lower half of the bracket. Only three of the top 16 teams in the tournament were sites for the first two rounds, leaving many of the higher seeds left to potentially play on opposing floors.

The committee spent hours trying to avoid that situation. They actually had three brackets working at once, but in the end it was impossible to make it work.

From fellow-APer Tim Reynolds: Florida Gulf Coast’s long-awaited NCAA trip awaits

More 3-pointers made than any team in the country. One of only four teams ranked among the nation’s top 15 in both points scored and points allowed per game. Owners of the third-longest current winning streak in women’s basketball, along with the fifth-best record in the nation.

Yes, Florida Gulf Coast’s resume is catchy.

Forgive the Eagles if they’re not impressed.

Florida Gulf Coast—which is headed to NCAA tournament in its first season of eligibility, five years after playing in the Division II championship game and then transitioning to the top level of college sports—isn’t that keen about keeping up on all its numbers, even though many of those stats have the Eagles in line with the nation’s elite.

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From her chat:

kevin (macon ga): In the last week, 10 ranked teams have lost to unranked opponents. Is parity a reality?

Mechelle Voepel: I asked Geno Auriemma about this Monday. He said that parity is kind of like global warming: Not everybody believes in it or always sees the evidence, but it really is there. Now … for those folks who don’t believe in global warming, I guess I can’t convince them that either thing really exists. :) I actually think “parity” to a degree has been around a long time. It’s just taking a while for it to reach the very top with any consistency. I do think weeks like this past one are good evidence of progress. And, yes, I believe in global warming.

After yesterday’s events, she blogs: You can wake up, St. John’s. It wasn’t a dream

Opposing coaches watch film, do the scout, and run their players through practice before facing UConn, just like going against any other team. Except it’s not. You wonder how many coaches – for instance, one of a program that had lost its last 27 in a row to the Huskies – could truly keep 100 percent faith that this preparation really mattered.

Yet that’s what being a coach is: Believing you always prepare to win because that possibility always exists. Even if you are about the only one on Earth who believes it.

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