Here is an example of how teamwork and cooperation can make life much easier for everyone. Team travel can be a tricky proposition during this time of the year, and when you have several teams traveling around the country at the same time, the issues are only multiplied.
Last weekend, the weather system that blanketed the Northeast with up to a foot of snow in some places also disrupted travel in Texas when airports in many parts of the Lone Star State were shut down because of ice. The swimming team, in Austin, Texas for the Big 12 swimming and diving championships, couldn’t get out Austin because its connecting flight to Dallas was canceled, meaning the 55 members of the swim team were looking at spending a few extra days in Texas.
“They wouldn’t have been able to come back until at least Wednesday as a group,” said West Virginia University athletic travel coordinator Tammy Cavender. “It was going to be like 10-12 at a time on commercial flights. With all of the flights being canceled it was just hard to get seats.”
In the meantime, an ice storm in Waco, Texas forced the closure of the airport there, so the charter plane that was going to pick up the women’s basketball team after its game against Baylor had to find another airport to fly out of.
Therefore, Cavender chose to kill two birds with one stone. The women’s team was chartering a bigger-than-usual plane to Waco because of the distance from Clarksburg to Waco, meaning there were plenty of empty seats on the plane to accommodate the swimming team.
She asked women’s basketball coach Mike Carey if he was willing to let the swim team fly back with them after Sunday’s Baylor game.
No problem, Carey said.
Initially, Cavender told swimming coach Vic Riggs to get his entire travel party down to Waco to meet up with the women’s team after their game. Then, when she found out the Waco airport was shutting down, she told Riggs to stay where they were because the women’s team was going to meet them in Austin.
Meanwhile, she had to get ahold of the airline and have the charter plane alter its destination from Waco to Austin to pick up both teams.
“There is no de-icing in Waco, so I told Delta don’t send that plane to Waco or else they will never get back out. Go to Austin,” she said.
Cavender then spent the entire afternoon collecting names, birthdates and weights of the WVU swimmers to add to the charter flight manifest. What started at 10 a.m. was not entirely finished until 9 p.m. that evening.
“It was a tough weekend for everyone,” said Cavender. “Thankfully, I didn’t have to fly them to Des Moines to pick up the women’s track team, too. They got out.”
The women’s track team was competing at the Big 12 indoor track and field championships at Iowa State last weekend.
That would have made it three birds with one stone.
When Mike Carey first came to West Virginia 13 years ago in 2001, the WVU women’s basketball program was not in very good shape, to put it politely. Two straight sub-10-win seasons that included a 72-point loss to Connecticut had forced the administration to rethink things.
That eventually led them to offer the job to Carey, one of the top Division II men’s coaches in the country at nearby Salem College. It was certainly an out-of-the-box hire at the time, one that drew quite a bit of skepticism throughout women’s basketball circles.
Could he transition from the men’s game to the women’s game?
Would he be able to recruit players good enough to play in the Big East Conference, the league the Mountaineers were competing in at the time?
Would the women’s players listen to him? And would they respond to his coaching style?
Those were all legitimate questions, for sure. Well, it became obvious after just one season at WVU that Carey was the right person for the job. The team experienced a nine-win improvement over the prior season, and two years after that, he had the Mountaineers back in the NCAA tournament.
Today, West Virginia is ranked seventh in the country.
On Tuesday night, following his team’s 67-60 win over Kansas to wrap up its first Big 12 regular season title, Carey recalled his first day on the job at WVU back in 2001.
“My first day here I really hadn’t been up here, so after I was announced I said ‘where are the offices?’ They said, ‘right here.’ I go in and I said ‘whoa.’ I said, ‘where are the assistant coaches’ offices?’ They had three assistants in one office.
“Then I said, ‘show me the locker rooms,’” he continued. “I went down and looked at the locker rooms and they were real small and I’m thinking, wow. So I go back upstairs to the office and I told everyone that we needed to get busy. ‘Who is the best team in the Big East?’ I didn’t know. I was on the men’s side. They told me it was Connecticut.”
Carey then asked for some tape of the West Virginia-Connecticut game to watch so he could get a better idea of what he was getting himself into.
The one tape they had available in the office was of UConn’s 100-28 victory over West Virginia in a game that had to be played at Morgantown High because the Coliseum was closed for asbestos removal.
That was also the game when the sports marketing office had scheduled an autograph session afterward to try and get some more local kids out to the game. It worked like a charm, except not the way it was intended. Instead of waiting around to get autographs from the West Virginia players, the kids stood outside the Connecticut locker room and waited to get autographs from the Husky players and their well-known coach Geno Auriemma.
Yes, that was the game tape administrative assistant Shirley Milush pulled out of the file cabinet and handed to Carey to watch.
“I was thinking, hell, I need to go back to Salem,” he laughed. “I was ready to call the president of Salem. But when I went to Salem they were only winning four or five games and we were able to build that. Once I got here, we started talking about what we needed to be successful and the administration was just fantastic.”
Carey, despite entertaining many offers on the men’s side, never had any intention of leaving West Virginia. His only concern was whether or not he could connect with the girls.
“No. 1, girls want to be coached a little more,” he said. “Guys think they know it all and they don’t need as much help and they don’t listen as well. The other thing is two guys could get in a fistfight in the middle of practice and after that they go out and eat together and all that. Two girls get into an argument in the middle of practice and it goes on for three months.
“And last but not least, you can be in at halftime – and this happened to me during my first halftime here on the women’s side. I didn’t mention any names because I normally won’t mention names – I don’t like to point people out unless I have to. I’d say ‘we’re not blocking out, we’re not coming off picks; we’re not setting good screens’ and all that. Well, as the players were coming back out of the locker room everybody had their heads down. I said ‘what’s wrong with everybody?’ They said, ‘Coach I know you were talking about me.’ Every girl thought I was talking about them.”
When Carey had to dress down his men’s players it was completely different.
“Hell, they said ‘he’s not talking about me - he’s talking about someone else,’” Carey chuckled. “They don’t do anything wrong.”
You could say the same about Mike Carey. Now eight 20-win seasons and soon-to-be eight NCAA tournament appearances later, the Mountaineer women are on the cusp of a breakthrough season in Year 13 under Carey.
“It’s been great and it’s been a challenge,” he said. “It’s great that I’ve been able to do it in the state of West Virginia, because I was always going to stay here and be where my family is and all that. What better place can you coach at than here?”
So true, thanks to what Mike Carey, a bunch of hard-working assistant coaches and some really good players have been able to accomplish over the last 12 years.
Mountaineer women’s basketball fans will be able to catch Saturday’s Big 12 tournament quarterfinal round game against either TCU or Texas Tech on ROOT Sports at 7 p.m. The semifinal and championship games will be carried on Fox Sports 1.
We will also be providing full-court coverage from Oklahoma City online with daily updates from Jeff Culhane and Meg Bulger, courtesy of WVU Healthcare.
Guard Juwan Staten continues to have a fabulous junior season. The point guard scored a team-high 24 points in Wednesday night’s loss to Oklahoma, boosting his season average to a team-leading 18.2 points per game.
Staten also continues to rank among the Big 12 leaders in almost every statistical category. If the Mountaineers were higher in the league standings Staten would be a favorite for Big 12 player of the year, based on his gaudy numbers.
While watching Staten play last night, ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted, “Juwan Staten is a beast. There are very few point guards in the country I'd take over him - even the ‘big name’ guys.”
That’s pretty heady praise for the Dayton, Ohio resident.
From what I’ve been able to get out of spring football practice so far, the offensive coaches have been pleasantly surprised with junior college quarterback Skyler Howard. He has more than enough arm strength to cover the entire field and his footwork is good enough to extend plays and avoid oncoming pass rushers.
The quarterback position is certainly one of the big question marks surrounding this year’s team.
Another big question mark is a pass rush that was almost non-existent last year. Well, I am told that junior college linebacker Edward Muldrow has been impressive so far coming off the edge. Some of the old timers that have been out to practice tell me that Muldrow’s first step is comparable to Gary Stills and Bruce Irvin – two pretty good edge rushers, by the way.
Of course, we’ll know a whole lot more once the pads go on.
Have a great week!
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