In the program’s short history at UTEP, women’s basketball has become a top contender in the conference, has produced professional basketball players, and competed for the NCAA title.
It is the golden age of UTEP women’s basketball. The Miners have won three league titles in the past six years (2008 C-USA regular season & 2012 C-USA regular season and tournament), while appearing in a pair of NCAA Tournaments (2008 and 2012). Head Coach Keitha Adams has guided the squad to four 20+ win seasons since 2007. If UTEP can achieve the feat again in 2013-14, it would mark an unprecedented third straight season.
In October 1973, UTEP announced that it would begin to offer women the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate sports and Basketball was one of the first eight sports offered. It would not be until the Title IX passed in 1975, however, that the University provided more than minimal funding for the coaches, athletes, and equipment. Wayne Thornton and Don Lewis were young UTEP students who helped to put together a team and met with President Arleigh B. Templeton to secure a practice facility and funds from the University-- $1,000 to start the program and the Women’s Gym (a facility that no longer exists) as a practice facility. In 1999, Thornton commented in an interview with The El Paso Times that the gym “had an ice skating rink for a floor and no nets, the walls were beaten up.”
For even the most ardent of fans, imagining the current state of program would have been impossible just a decade ago. Launched for the 1974-75 campaign, the team was not even under the wing of the athletic department. It was initially operated by the intramurals division, and a physical education graduate student named Carol Ammerman was selected as the first coach.
Ammerman’s salary was $250 a month, and she scrambled to assemble a squad. She somehow put together two winning seasons in four years before stepping down for personal reasons. A bleak stretch ensued, as Wayne Thornton (one year), Janet Woods (seven years), Ken Weeks (one year) and Craig Roden (three years) all fronted the program. Only Roden managed to post a winning season (16-14 in 1988-89).
Sandra Rushing’s arrival on campus signified the advent of change in 1990. She put the pieces in place for the future by establishing a booster club, engineering the team’s move from Memorial Gym to the Don Haskins Center (then known as the Special Events Center) for home games, and creating her own television show. Rushing compiled 123 wins on the sidelines before stepping down in 2000-01. In her place arrived Adams, who was tabbed the program’s seventh head coach on April 20, 2001. It was a brilliant hire by UTEP Director of Athletics Bob Stull, one that would change the fortunes of the program for good.
What Adams has accomplished in the Sun City is simply amazing. With a clear vision of how to build a program with long-standing success, Adams started to stockpile young talent. The fruits of her labor were realized in 2006-07 as the Miners broke the 20-win mark (22-8).
UTEP is 151-68 since ‘06-07, with the winning percentage (.689) ranking second among all C-USA schools during that span. Aiding those efforts were the record-setting seasons of 2007-08 (28-4/16-0 C-USA/NCAA Second Round) and 2011-12 (29-4/15-1 C-USA/NCAA 1st Round).
Adams is 206-156 overall in 12 years, making her UTEP’s all-time winningest coach. Her efforts, along with the incredible support of the administration and city of El Paso, have put UTEP women’s basketball on the map both regionally and nationally. That is a truly amazing accomplishment given the program’s humble beginnings.
Despite hard beginnings, the women’s basketball team was formed and Carol Ammerman, a physical education graduate student, filled the position of Coach. Ammerman was paid a monthly salary of $250 when she was hired. The team finished off their first season with an overall record of 11-5. Since its humble creation the women’s basketball team has employed the following seven head coaches: Carol Ammerman (1974-1978); Wayne Thornton (1978-1979); Janet Woods (1979-1986); Ken Weeks (1986-1987); Craig Roden (1987-1990); Sandra Rushing (1990-2001); and Keitha Adams (2001-present).
Coach Adams is the most successful UTEP women’s basketball coach in the program’s history. Coach Adams has been named Conference-USA Coach of the Year twice, in 2008 and 2012. She coached the team in its first 20-win season (22 wins) in 2006-07. Additionally, during that same season Coach Adams and the women’s basketball team had a conference record of 16-0, and claimed the program’s first Conference-USA title. The team later earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where they beat Western Kentucky, 92-60 in the first round; the team eventually lost to Stanford.
In the 2011-2012 season, Coach Adams again proved that the team was a force to be reckoned with when the team won both the 2012 Conference USA and tournament championship. The team won the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament where they lost against Penn State, 85-77, in the first round.
One of the stand-out players in the program’s history is Be Stoney, player from 1977-1981. In the 1979-80 season she scored 472 points, the following season she scored 508 points, setting the yearly records. She also set the record those seasons for the highest scoring average, averaging 18.1 both years. Additionally, the team has produced two WNBA draft picks, Natasha Lacy and Izabela Pierkarska, both drafted in 2008.
To follow the program, visit the official website.
Sources: 2011-2012 UTEP Basketball Fact Book; Aguilar, Matthew, Tales from the Morgue: The El Paso Times, "1990: UTEP Women’s Basketball celebrates 25 years", November 21, 1999; Eurobasket, “Izabela Piekarska Basketball Player Profile”; Nova, “Miners Reach NCAA Tourney", Spring 2008; The Prospector, October 5, 1973, December 6, 1974, and December 13, 1974; University Communications, “UTEP One of Eight Schools with Multiple Players Chosen,” April 9, 2008 and “Former Miner Lacy Earns Roster Spot with WNBA’s L.A. Sparks", June 3, 2011; UTEP Coach Profile, “Keitha Adams,” 2012; and UTEP Offical Athletic Site-Hall of Fame, “2010 Inductees.”
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