By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
Watching them go undefeated and take down then women’s basketball behemoth Tennessee twice, including with a national title at stake, there was no mistaking that there was something special about the 1994-95 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.
Not quite as evident was what coach Geno Auriemma; National Player of the Year Rebecca Lobo; All-Americans Jennifer Rizzotti and Kara Wolters; all-star Carla Berube; and role players like Missy Rose, a sophomore guard from Scranton Prep who would later serve as tri-captain, were getting started.
That first National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I championship team has been followed by 10 more as UConn has evolved into the most successful program in women’s basketball by just about any measuring stick.
“Not in my wildest dreams,” Missy (Rose) McTiernan, the Scranton School District superintendent said Tuesday night when reflecting on that season after learning her college coach had extended an offer to another Lackawanna County recruit, Ciera Toomey from Dunmore High School and the NEPA Elite AAU program. “Our core group was the start of that with Rebecca and Jen Rizzotti and Kara and that whole group.
“But, I don’t think any of us would have imagined the program would be where it is at today. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it and I was just happy to be a part of it.”
The 1994-95 Huskies have been described in more than one retrospective look as “the team that changed women’s college basketball.”
Beloved throughout Connecticut, they captured the attention of nearby emerging media giant ESPN as well as the New York market in a way seldom witnessed in women’s team sports to that point.
The Huskies did not just go 35-0.
They set an NCAA record with an average winning margin of 33.2 points per game. They led the nation in field goal percentage, hitting 50.7 percent of their shots while also being the toughest team to shoot against, holding opponents to 31.5 percent.
McTiernan played her part in a supporting role. The 5-foot-9 guard came off the bench in 31 of the games, averaging 1.9 points and 1.0 rebounds while hitting seven 3-pointers and totaling 17 assists and 15 steals.
From a 107-27 Thanksgiving weekend rout of visiting Morgan State through a 70-64 national championship game win in April in Minneapolis, the Huskies often dominated.
They won every game by double-figures margins until the regional final.
Connecticut arrived at No. 1 for the first time ever with a Martin Luther King Day, 77-67 victory in a battle of unbeatens with Tennessee.
Since, the Huskies have been there more often than any other team.
McTiernan, who appeared in 104 games as part of teams that went 132-8 during her four years in Storrs, Conn., came away with an understanding of what it takes to play for Auriemma.
That understanding and what she learned about Toomey made McTiernan one of the people recommending that Auriemma take a look at the 6-foot-3 Class of 2023 forward.
Now, that the offer is out there, McTiernan expects UConn to be an enticing option for Toomey.
In hindsight, McTiernan is happy it was a decision she made more than a quarter century ago.
“Winning a national championship was obviously the highlight,” she said when asked about her UConn memories. “ … But, honestly, with all the wins, the seasons we had, the Big East championships, the trips to NCAAs, I still have to say it’s the friends that I made.
“Rebecca Lobo, you see her on TV, she’s one of my good friends. You see Jen Rizzotti, she has coached in the Olympics, she was my roommate.
“Those connections that I have; they’re the best people. They are really good people and the fact that I have them and if I ever needed anything, I would pick up the phone and it would be here tomorrow.”
McTiernan knows what she would suggest to any player talented enough to play at UConn.
“Besides the basketball aspect of it and that experience – that was second to none with the way that program was run – and being fortunate to be a part of it, I’m more fortunate to have life-long friends,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience.
“Of course, I’m biased. In my mind, Ciera has no other choice. She’d be crazy not to take the opportunity.”