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Monday, Sep. 15, 2014

Johnson: Lady Vol visit boosts MTSU

Friday, November 27, 2009

(Photo)
The Lady Volunteers and Blue Raiders tipped off in Murfreesboro for the first time since 1979.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
MURFREESBORO -- Wednesday was a great day for women's basketball in Tennessee.

The long awaited matchup between Middle Tennessee's Blue Raiders and Tennessee's Lady Volunteers at Murphy Center on the campus of MTSU was well worth the wait.

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt started the day off speaking at a "Breakfast of Champions" with over 800 fans in attendance. Then, for the first time in 30 years, the teams tipped it off in Murfreesboro in front of a record crowd (11,802) for a women's basketball game at Murphy Center. That number broke the previous record of 10,010 when Middle Tennessee hosted defending NCAA champion Maryland on Nov. 10, 2006.

The Lady Vols' last trip to MTSU was on Nov. 26, 1979.

When Insell was hired, one of his priorities was to schedule the Lady Vols and eventually get a game on the Blue Raiders' home court.

Despite the final outcome, a 69-52 loss to the Lady Vols, the experience was as great as he anticipated.

"We need to do this more often. There were some Tennessee fans here, but I tell you, there was a lot of blue in the stands too and I'm so proud of our fans," Insell said. "It's been five years and we've come from but three or four hundred a night to we had people begging to get in today."

Summitt said she was impressed with the atmosphere and where Insell has the Blue Raider program going.

(Photo)
Rick Insell coaches his Blue Raiders from the bench.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
"You can look at the crowd that was here and know that the people in this area embrace and support women's basketball," Summitt said. "Rick has done a great job of getting out in the community which a lot of coaches in our game are not passionate about. He has people here because they love basketball, but they also like the style of play and they know coach Insell is going to continue to win. It is great to have that fan support and it continues grow year in and year out."

Actually, I was expecting a little more orange in the stands. I know Insell and his staff and players have done a stellar job of working the community and selling this program but UT fans have a way of getting those hard-to-get tickets.

With the success of the Lady Vol program and its statewide fan base, I was anticipating at least 30 percent of those in attendance to be dressed in orange and white. By my estimation that number was more like 15 percent at best.

There were a few patches of orange scattered throughout the stands, but Middle Tennessee should be commended for keeping those tickets in the hands of Blue Raider fans.

Even though Tennessee won on the court, the real winner was women's basketball in the state of Tennessee and especially in middle Tennessee.

The talk and hype about this game has been going on since it was scheduled and I've always thought the some of the best and most knowledgeable women's basketball fans are in the state of Tennessee.

If Insell has his wish fans won't have to wait another 30 years to see this matchup on the campus of MTSU.

"I hope that Pat saw that we're sincere about the women's basketball game," Insell said. "With the leadership we've got with Chris (Massaro, director of athletics) and Dr. (Sidney) McPhee (president) in what we want to do, I think coming into the environment tonight, why fly all over the country when you can get it down the road in three hours. We want to work this out with Pat so we can get this thing going."

(Photo)
Tennessee's Kelley Cain (52) tries to score while being closely defended by Middle Tennessee's Emily Queen.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
Summitt said that she wasn't sure how far out Tennessee's schedule is but thought it was at least three or four years. She also said that she would consider coming back here to play.

If there are many teams as talented as the Lady Vols, I'd sure like to see them. It looks as if they are on the road to contend for another national championship. With a junior, three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup, their future looks bright.

To say that Insell has the Blue Raiders moving in the right direction is a huge understatement.

Let's hope that these teams will be able to work out more home-and-home games -- and wouldn't it be nice for Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt to do the same?

-- Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at gjohnson@t-g.com.

Gary Johnson
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