Iowa plays through pain of tragedies WOMEN'S NCAA TOURNAMENT

April 03, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Winning the national championship this weekend would do wonders for the pride of the Iowa women's basketball (( team, but it will not mend their broken hearts.

The third-ranked Hawkeyes' coach, Vivian Stringer, the players and the surrounding community have all been touched by tragedies in the past year -- the kind of pain that doesn't go away.

"It has been extremely difficult for us and it's because of the players that I've been able to continue," said Stringer, who was named women's Coach of the Year yesterday by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Last Thanksgiving Day, Vivian Stringer's husband, Bill, an exercise physiologist at Iowa, died of a heart attack.

In December, a former team ball girl, Nikki Smith, died of leukemia, and the team's physician, Pat Hicks, died of cancer.

Two players -- juniors Cathy Marx and Virgie Dillingham -- have suffered the loss of their fathers while at Iowa.

The combination might have sent some teams reeling, but the Hawkeyes went on to capture a share of the Big Ten championship.

The Hawkeyes were on the road just after Bill Stringer's death and had to play then-fourth-ranked Maryland 10 days after Thanksgiving in College Park.

Iowa took a 17-point halftime lead and held off the Terps' late comeback to win, 53-50.

"It was a very emotional time for us," said senior all-America forward Toni Foster. "We came together as a team and we wanted to play for Mr. Stringer. That game gave us the confidence to win and know that we could go to the Final Four."

Stringer is the mother of three, including a 12-year-old girl who has meningitis and must use a wheelchair. Stringer took five weeks off to cope with her grief and wondered if she could come back to her team.

"The biggest decision I had to make was did I care," she said. "I know I would never coach if I didn't care about the wins and losses. I only wanted to be around the team if I could be strong for them."

Stringer regained her strength and helped to guide the Iowa women to their first Final Four berth last week, earned at home before a noisy crowd with a 72-56 victory over Tennessee.

Through the ordeal and the endless questions that followed, Stringer has refused to let her team trivialize its pain by trying to milk it for an emotional edge.

"They have been able to pull together and do all the things they've had to do," she said. "You can have all the emotion you want, but if all you have is emotion, you won't be able to do much."

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