Fan turnout eases pain for Terps women Team hopes to gain support despite loss


The scorebooks, newspapers and videotapes will indelibly record that the top-ranked Maryland women's basketball team dropped a heartbreaker and probably their No. 1 ranking to No. 2 Virginia on Tuesday night at Cole Field House.

But the sellout crowd of 14,500 who packed the hot building to make history and see great basketball may have given a tip to Maryland coaches and athletic officials that this could be the start of something big for women's basketball in College Park.

"I always envisioned things like that because if you don't, it will never happen," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.

"I think our women's program has proven something," said Andy Geiger, Maryland's athletic director. "I think it's on the map. [Tuesday] was a statement for women's basketball."

The crowd smashed an Atlantic Coast Conference record for attendance at a women's game and was both the fourth-largest regular-season crowd of all time and the seventh largest to see a women's game.

The previous all-time high for a Maryland women's game was 3,314, achieved in December, 1990, when the Terps were visited by then top-ranked Tennessee.

So, given the track record of campus disinterest in the women's team, which has won eight ACC titles and appeared in three Final Fours, yet never drawn 5,000 fans to a game before Tuesday, the natural question that results is whether fans will come back, either to Maryland's home finale against Duke on Feb. 22, or their first- or second-round NCAA tournament home game next month.

The players, just now getting used to seeing warm bodies in the Cole seats, say they aren't terribly concerned with that yet.

"Hopefully, they will come back," said senior forward Dafne Lee of Walbrook High. "If they don't, we can't get caught up in trying to get them back. We just have to focus on winning."

And Geiger says he's not concerned with keeping the fans coming back either.

"I think women's basketball gained friends [Tuesday]," Geiger said. "The base will grow and there will be positive residuals from the game and the quality of play."

Still, even with the loss, the game's attendance may have far-reaching effects.

Geiger said the school would apply annually to play host to a regional in the 48-team women's tournament. The school applied to host a women's Final Four two years ago, but was turned down.

The Terps will not be able to play host to either an East regional or a Final Four for at least three years. Those sites have been determined through 1995.

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