When the Big 12 started in 1996, those of us who grew up in Big Eight territory had to figure out the traditions and quirks of our new “relatives” in Texas. One thing became clear right away: The other three Texas schools in the league all seemed to consider the University of Texas as their big rival.
In women’s basketball, at least for the first decade of the Big 12, Texas-Texas Tech was indeed the key rivalry among the state’s schools.
It had history, including an NCAA title on each side, and two coaches in Jody Conradt and Marsha Sharp who had that status as being truly powerful women at their universities.
Of course, Texas had the leg up on just about every school in the country – and certainly over all in the old Southwest Conference – in commitment to women’s sports in the 1980s. When I was a junior at Mizzou in Texas’ NCAA-title season of 1986, I got the chance to cover the Horns’ NCAA Tournament game against the Tigers. And, for the first time, I saw what a truly committed athletics program for women was supposed to be like.
In fact, when Gail Goestenkors was early in the agonizing process of “Will she stay or will she go?” at Duke in March 2007, at one point – off the record then, although I think it’s OK to write it now _ she said to me, “I mean, it’s Texas, you know?” And I did know. Goestenkors is two years older than me, and she had the same memories of respect for Texas’ giant footsteps of women’s sports’ progress when we were college-aged.
Now, lest the followers of the red and black are thinking this posting is getting way too orange-tinged, here’s my favorite Tech memory: Getting into a cab at the airport in Lubbock and the driver knowing exactly what time the women’s game was going to be that afternoon. And saying how he had to work then, but at least he could listen to it on the radio.
And while I’m at it, thanks to Tech for keeping its media guide as an actual aid to the media _ with stats, series histories and year-by-year records. All of that valuable info is gone from Texas’ so-called “media” guide now, as it’s followed the trend of other schools/programs in making the book a recruiting lure.
For this, we can thank yet another piece of the NCAA’s “Tilting at Windmills” legislation from a couple of years back, this one limiting the size of guides. In the case of some women’s hoops guides, that’s meant “out” with actual data and “in” with as many cutesy photos as possible. They assume, I guess, that recruits’ sense of narcissism exponentially surpasses their sense of history. OK, I’m overly crabby on this topic (can you tell?) because Texas’ book used to be one of the very best … and now it’s essentially useless for journalists.
Good thing I have an OLD Texas media guide and have studied the history, and so I know that Texas owned the other SWC schools in women’s hoops for a long time. That includes winning its first 37 meetings with Tech from 1977-1991. Then in March 1991, Tech finally broke through in the series. And in 1993, of course, Tech won its NCAA championship.
From then on, it’s fair to say the programs pretty much have been on equal footing, with some years being better for one than the other. Tech, though, does have a 24-18 advantage going back to that first win over the Horns.
However, Texas got back to the NCAA tournament this past season under Goestenkors. Tech, in Kristy Curry’s second season, did not make the Big Dance. Tech fans are a little concerned (or a lot) about the program’s now three-year absence from the NCAA field.
On the highly civilized, informative and often funny Hoop Scoop web site _ which is mostly devoted to Big 12 women’s hoops chatter – sometimes over the years it has gotten heated between Tech and Texas fans. The fangs come out among a few folks, although I’m sure obviously that the worst of it couldn’t even begin to compare with what’s going on right now in football’s horrifying rages discussions.
Still, Texas is on one side and Tech on another, and never the twain shall meet, except …. well, there are those darned, eminently reasonable, gentler-personality fans who find it not-too-difficult to root for “the other side” in non-conference matchups.
And … there are stories like that of Dominic Seals, Tech’s senior forward. At the recent Big 12 media day, Seals was talking about how she got a lot of good advice and tips from her best friend, who is in the WNBA.
And who might that be?
“Tiffany Jackson,” Seals said.
Thunderation! A Texas-Texas Tech best friendship? Actually, though, not surprising at all. Both are from Dallas and went to Lincoln High (although Jackson spent her last prep season at Duncanville). And, like so many Texas players, they also spent time together on the AAU circuit.
“She always tells me,” Seals said of Jackson, ” ‘People aren’t always going to be looking at you and telling you to work hard. And it’s going to matter in the end. Because that’s when you need to work the hardest: When you’re on your own.’
“She has been a great mentor to me. She told me the same thing when I was in junior college, that I could end up in the Big 12. And now she watches my games and tells me my mistakes and things I need to work on. She’s always been there to help me.”
Seals also has been a good listener for Jackson, who struggled with injuries during the WNBA season. And Seals laughed about this: When she was still at South Plains College watching the Texas-Texas Tech matchups, she didn’t know whom to root for: the school where she was headed … or her best friend’s school. So she rooted for both.