Out of a series of contrasts comes the Morgan State women's volleyball team, which has the nation's third-longest current conference winning streak heading into this weekend's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament at Hill Field House.
Take a young woman from the Midwest who is one of nine blacks in a Kansas City high school of 2,000 whites. Then after a year at 25,000-student State U., throw her into an all-black college one-fifth the size, and 1,100 miles away.
What happens is that the woman, Ramona Riley-Bozier, becomes a star sprinter at Morgan State, running the first leg on a 400-meter relay team that holds a 15-year-old school record. She rubs shoulders with the Jackie Joyner Kersees and Merlene Otteys, and comes a few eye blinks away from qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
She graduates, and decides to stay in Baltimore because of her husband, and is just starting a family, with one daughter, in 1988, when her old track coach and now Morgan athletic director Leonard Braxton calls looking for someone, anyone to coach volleyball. Since she'd played the sport in addition to running at Morgan, she made as much sense for the job as anyone.
"Do you think you can do it?" he said. "You know the game."
That was 11 years ago. Riley-Bozier, with her team on the brink of a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and with 47 straight wins in the MEAC, marvels at the relatively casual transaction.
"There I was and I never thought about not doing it," said Riley-Bozier, whose 19-8 team begins play at 3 p.m. today against the winner of the Coppin State-Norfolk State match at 9: 30 a.m.
At a school whose alums are feverishly sentimental about Leroy Kelley and Willie Lanier in football and Marvin Webster in men's basketball, Riley-Bozier began building in the shadows.
While her first two seasons yielded nothing but defeat, the Bears had 22 wins in her fourth season, the first of five 20-win campaigns in a six-year period.
By 1997, Riley-Bozier and her team qualified for the NCAA tournament, a feat that it repeated in 1998, completing an end run to become the hottest team on campus amid the tepid fortunes of just about every other one at Morgan State.
Earlier this season, assistant sports information director Lamont Germany informed the coach that she had 200 wins.
"For real?" she replied.
"I was like, 'Oh Lord, I don't think about those things," she recalled.
Apparently, not many others do, either. Dorothy Buford, a first-team All-MEAC selection for the past two seasons, wonders where the recognition is for a Morgan program successful in the Lexus era as opposed to the Gremlin era.
To crane one's neck toward the ceiling in Hill Field House is to see rafters that are bereft of banners for the volleyball team. Riley-Bozier keeps the trophies the team has won crammed in her office rather than in the showcase outside the arena.
For now, the most immediate concern is getting the current Bears squad ready for the tournament.
With Riley-Bozier's motivational speaking as a serenade, the Bears have seemed to move along smoothly, despite losing five of six starters from last season's team.
During this season, some of the new players wondered if they weren't just freeloading on the legacy of the teams before them, particularly with the conference winning streak.
"They felt that it was a burden that they had inherited," said Germany, who often ends up as an informal adviser to the team. "The pressure has eased as the season progressed because they have had success on their own and in fact have increased the winning streak."
Said Riley-Bozier: "I explained to them that every [milestone], you're playing a part in it."
Morgan State's volleyball team has the third-longest active winning streak among Division I schools for conference wins, including conference tournament games.
No. School Year started
84 Notre Dame 1991
72 Central Florida 1992
47 Morgan State 1996