Next To Nothing When Coale Arrived, Sooners Are A Game From Final Four

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
MARCH 25, 2002

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Sherri Coale speaks with an Oklahoma accent, although it's certainly no drawl. She spits out words faster than her Sooners run the court, and that's saying a lot.

As for Stacey Dales, her Canadian roots are evident when she says "aboot" instead of "about." But her game was All-American this season, the moves perfected in practice after hours of watching the NBA on television.

Together, they've got everyone in women's college basketball talking about Oklahoma's revival.

The top-seeded Sooners (30-3) meet third-seeded Colorado (24-9) in the West Regional final Monday night. The winner goes to San Antonio, the first Big 12 team to reach the Final Four.

"It's exciting to be here," Dales said Sunday. "It's somewhere we've never been. We're having a great time with it."

Oklahoma is a remarkable story because of what happened in 1990. The university dropped women's basketball, then revived it eight days later after a public outcry and an aggressive campaign by coaches nationwide.

Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp wore a ribbon at that year's Final Four in protest of the decision. Tara VanDerveer remembers that year, too, and not just because her Stanford team won its first national title.

"To think that was 12 years ago, and to look where they are, is a credit to the university, to the athletic department and to the job that Sherri Coale has done," VanDerveer said.

Still, the Sooners were just another team until Coale arrived in 1996. She won two Oklahoma state titles in seven years at Norman High School, but many fans felt it was the wrong move to hire a high school coach.

Those concerns seemed valid when the Sooners went 5-22 that season.

"The first year was lo-o-o-ng," Coale said, drawing out the word. "Everything about it was a struggle."

Coale is energetic, witty and charismatic, a tireless 37-year-old dynamo packed into a 5-foot-5 body. She's also an eternal optimist, though that attitude was severely tested during her first season.

"Every game we thought, 'This is the one. We're going to beat them tonight,"' she recalled. "We lost like 15 in a row but we always said, 'Tonight's the night. We're going to get this thing done."'

Things began to change after Coale recruited Dales from Brockville, Ontario. The young Canadian, who later represented her country in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, didn't even know where Oklahoma was.

Dales, however, connected with Coale and decided to go to Norman.

"She possessed all the traits I wanted in a coach, someone I felt could take a struggling team very far," Dales said. "She had a great vision, a vision that sold me, and I'm very proud of where we are now."

And where are they? Firmly established as a national program. The Sooners have won three straight Big 12 regular-season championships and took the conference tournament earlier this month.

Dales had a lot to do with it, averaging 16.8 points on a fast-breaking team that scores 77.1 a game. She gives some credit to Oklahoma players and staff for the revival, but thinks Coale deserves most of it.

"She's one of the most relentless, diligent, meticulous leaders I've ever known," Dales said. "When you're among somebody like that, it grows on you. You feed off it. It becomes contagious."

Oklahoma is also entering uncharted territory in its first trip to the NCAA regional finals. Despite a No. 2 seeding last year, the Sooners couldn't get past the third round for the second straight season.

That changed Saturday night, when Oklahoma beat Texas Tech 72-62. Next up is Colorado, a team the Sooners have beaten four straight times.

The Buffaloes are in the regional final for the first time since losing to eventual national champion Texas Tech in 1993. They advanced with a 62-59 win over Stanford, holding Cardinal star Nicole Powell to six second-half points.

"We are not satisfied. We are not just happy to be here," coach Ceal Barry said. "We feel we have the same chance as the seven other teams to reach the Final Four. We will be focused and ready tomorrow night."



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