COLLEGE PARK -- Tara Heiss played at Cole Field House when Maryland women's basketball crowds were limited almost exclusively to about 100 friends and relatives of team members.
So, last night, as she sat courtside preparing to broadcast the Maryland-Virginia women's game, the size of the crowd struck her as amazing.
"No, I never thought I'd see this," said Heiss, referring to the first sellout in the 17 years that Chris Weller has been Terrapins coach.
For a change during a Maryland women's game, Cole Field House hadn't become a quick stopping point on the way to an off-campus watering hole, and Heiss, Maryland's first All-American, was more than impressed.
"The fan support has been growing and growing," said Heiss, who was also an assistant coach here. "It shows a lot of support and appreciation for Chris."
The crowd began building when the gates opened at 6 p.m., and a mini-traffic jam backed up onto University Boulevard.
Outside, scalpers -- yes, scalpers -- were asking for $25 per ticket, five times the normal price.
"Usually, I walk right in. I stood in line for 20 minutes. I guess it's worth it. People don't realize how fun women's games are," said James Lloyd, 25, a Maryland student.
In fact, that has been the rap on Maryland fans, students and alumni alike for years -- that they haven't gotten behind the women's team, which has made three Final Four appearances and won eight Atlantic Coast Conference championships.
"I never thought they'd be able to fill this place," said Alan Rudan of Greenbelt, who has been a member of the "Rebounders," the women's basketball booster group since 1982.
Rudan said, "I don't understand why [fans haven't come]. They're here, so that's a start. The administration, more and more, over the years has been supportive of women's athletics and the team."
For some, the hook for attending was the chance to see a women's game for the first time.
"My friend called me and said how would you like to go to a women's game," said Barry Schwartz of Gaithersburg. "He thought it would be interesting.
Schwartz's friend, Michael Gold of Alexandria, Va., graduated from Maryland, but considers himself a Virginia fan, and has attended a number of Cavaliers women's games.
"They're a little more mechanical [than men's basketball players], but they are good," said Gold. "The level of talent and play has improved in recent years."
The obvious reason for the big interest in last night's game was the lure of seeing the two top teams in the country battle during the regular season.
"No. 1 vs. No. 2, baby. You can't get any better than this," said Brad Dodds, a freshman from Woodcliff Lake, N.J.