About a year ago, Sports Illustrated had a wonderful article about how the University of Louisville had built its women's program to become one of the crown jewels of the athletic department there. Here's the link, by the way: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1153351/index.htm
Led by eventual WNBA rookie of the year Angel McCoughtry, the program tapped into the community to make the Cardinals' women's games THE place to see and be seen. It's almost a textbook case in how to build a program from the ground up.
Of course, Louisville was able to parlay that popularity and McCoughtry's talents to the title game of the women's NCAA championship before falling to UConn. But along the way, those players captured the imagination of the campus, and the community, and built a strong, loyal fan base along the way.
So fast forward to last Tuesday, when UC's women brought a busload of fans to Freedom Hall and defeated Louisville in overtime, 74-68. In the past it's usually been Louisville that brought a busload (or two) of fans to 5/3 Arena and turned the 'Cats home court into Cardinal Central. This time, it was UC who brought their own red-clad fans into enemy territory and came out a winner.
If you read the Sports Illustrated article about Louisville, you'll see how the team made a concerted effort to reach out to the leaders in the community, from the Mayor on, to construct a fan base. (In many cases they got the women involved, who brought their husbands, who brought their checkbooks. Hey, whatever works...) With McCoughtry's urging, the bookstores and sporting goods stores started carrying HER jersey. It was a way to put a face on the program. Winning never hurts, either.
The victory by Jamelle Elliott's Bearcats was impressive, a come-from-behind in OT win on the road in the BIG EAST, something that doesn't happen all the time. But not only was it important for the team, it was important to the program. It shows that the 'Cats can play in hostile territory, dig deep, and leave town with a W. It shows that the program is on the right path. It shows that the community, the fans, are buying into the new era.
So now, the next test is top-5 rated Notre Dame, at 5/3 on Tuesday. Come out and cheer on this team. They've earned your support.