Three decades later, Marianne Stanley still marvels at the event, maybe more now than at the time.
ODU was one of the sport's marquee programs, with national titles, well known players and a dazzlingly successful coach in Stanley. But when the Lady Monarchs lost in the regionals, the NCAA faced the prospect of filling a 10,000-seat arena, Scope, for games between teams from hundreds of miles away.
Despite ODU's absence, fans flocked to the games. Scope sold out the semifinals and final, and women's college basketball administered by the NCAA received a huge kick start.
"Now, it's tough to see that happen," Stanley said. "To think that 30-some-odd years ago, that's what Old Dominion was doing, and people embraced it, people supported it, people got behind it. That's pretty amazing."
The groundwork laid by people such as former ODU athletic director Jim Jarrett and Stanley continues to bear fruit, when the city and the school host yet another round of
"I think the important thing is that the basketball fans in Norfolk have really embraced women's basketball, dating back to our earliest times at Old Dominion," said Stanley, now an assistant with the
ODU and Norfolk host NCAA tournament games for the 21st year since college sports' governing body took over women's basketball championships. For years, games were held at the ODU Field House, the 4,855-seat bandbox that was located in the center of campus, and Scope, site of the first two NCAA final fours.
Now, they're at the Constant Center, the spaciously cozy 8,600-seat arena that's both basketball- and visitor-friendly. The Ted is hosting NCAA games for the seventh time in the 10 years since the doors opened, and its second regional final.
"We couldn't have done it without the support of the local community," Constant Center assistant general manager Mike Fryling said. "We have great basketball support from the community, and obviously the tradition of the ODU women's basketball program, it makes it a lot easier when we want to go out after events like this and try to attract them."
Indeed, ODU and local support of women's basketball pre-dates NCAA governance. Jarrett, then a young, forward-thinking athletic director, oversaw a department that was among the first to offer athletic scholarships to women in the 1970s.
The women's basketball program benefited almost immediately, attracting the likes of Nancy Lieberman, Inge Nissen and
Jarrett was a member of the first NCAA women's basketball committee, which awarded the first two final fours to Norfolk and Scope.
"I thought they set the standard for how it should be, from the very beginning," former
"But people like Jim Jarrett had a vision of what women's basketball could be and then he turned it into that, and he turned it into that very quickly. He was willing to stick his neck out and make it something special. I really feel like Norfolk was the lead city for showing how a Final Four should be, how a regional tournament should be. They always did it right, they were always at the top of the heap."
A remarkable list of players came through Norfolk, starting with ODU's Hall of Fame standouts, as well as All-Americans Medina Dixon, Ticha Penicheiro and Clarisse Machanguana.
Louisiana Tech, the inaugural NCAA women's champ in 1982, was led by Wade Trophy winner Pam Kelly. The following year, Southern Cal came to Scope and won the first of back-to-back titles led by All-American Cheryl Miller.
Virginia won the 1990 East Region behind sophomore guards Dawn Staley and Tammi Reiss and the 6-5 Burge twins, Heather and Heidi.
Notre Dame's All-America guard Skylar Diggins was the
Ryan's teams played a bunch of games in Norfolk through the years, both in the regular season and in NCAA tournaments.
"We had the very highest of highs and the lowest of lows there," Ryan said. "But it was always a very well run tournament, because they did such a great job."
The highest: The Cavaliers upset top-seeded Tennessee in overtime in 1990 in the East Region final at the ODU Field House, to make their first Final Four. The Final Four that year was held in Knoxville, so the
The lowest: Two years earlier, Tennessee defeated U.Va. in the East Region final. In 2008 at the Ted, ODU's Jazzmin Walters hit a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Lady Monarchs to an 88-85 win against the Cavaliers in a second-round game.
The Lady Monarchs were nearly unbeatable at the Field House in postseason. On the way to their last national championship in 1985, they won the East Region final, defeating second-seeded Ohio State and a young coach named Tara VanDerveer.
ODU's 1997 national finalist needed every bit of homecourt advantage to make it to the Sweet 16. The Lady Monarchs held off Purdue in overtime in a second-round game that fans remember as so loud that coach Wendy Larry had to communicate with All-America guard Ticha Penicheiro via hand signals on the court.
"That's what was so great about the Field House," said ODU associate athletic director Debbie White, who has witnessed nearly every big moment for the Lady Monarchs in the past 25 years. "You talk about a homecourt advantage. The fans were right on top of you. I think we've been able to reproduce that, or get close to it, at the Ted."
Though the Lady Monarchs are no longer an elite program, Norfolk remains an attractive site for NCAA games because of the Constant Center amenities, a seasoned, experienced staff, and the area's track record of support.
"I think it says a great deal about our program," White said of remaining in the NCAA rotation. "First, it tells me that the fans of
"I think it traces back, certainly, to our pioneer years in the sport, in that people came to realize that Hampton Roads and Old Dominion were symbolic of stellar women's basketball programs. I think there's some residual effect from that, and I think that our fans really appreciate the sport."
Fryling said the feeback he hears from the NCAA and from fans is overwhelmingly positive. He anticipates bidding to host future NCAA sub-regionals and regionals, and believes that the Ted will remain in the rotation.
"Typically, when the NCAA looks at the logistics of future events, our site here is usually the model of what they'll look at," he said. "If another site is looking to host in the future, they'll send them all the information from our facility – pictures, layouts, all that stuff. The message is, the folks in Norfolk do it right, the folks at ODU do it right."
Stanley has understood that for a long time and takes none of it for granted.