Coppin sets out to spike streak Volleyball: The Eagles have lost 112 consecutive matches, but the team's new coach is trying to instill a positive if not winning attitude.

September 22, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The Coppin State women's volleyball team has lost 112 straight matches over the past five years.

The new coach, who is only 22, met her team barely a month ago as several of the players were first picking up the game. A few hours before the season's opening match, their full uniforms still hadn't arrived. Finally suited up, the 10 players rapidly lost No. 107 to Norfolk State.

The team can't even win for losing. Nationally, Coppin's streak ranks second behind Chicago State (Ill.), which hasn't won in 131 straight tries.

If that doesn't inspire sympathy, nothing will.

Not that Coppin (0-6) wants pity.

"We're going to get a win this year," junior Sharine Ward said. "We may not win all the time, but we will get a win."

The next chance comes at 7 tonight against Hampton (Va.) at the Coppin Center.

The coach, Stephanie Ready, knows the streak well, having suffered through nearly half of it as a player. She blamed the losses partly on scarce funds, partly on a belief that winning seemed impossible.

"Most of our problems were attitude problems," Ready said. "We're trying to have a very positive attitude. I tell everyone that we're looking good. I can't say I have All-Americans, but they're giving me the best they've got."

Coppin's last victory came against Wilson College of Chambersburg, Pa., in straight sets (15-4, 15-1), on Oct. 19, 1993. Most of Coppin's losses haven't been close. Coppin dropped 82 consecutive games between Nov. 9, 1994, and Sept. 21, 1996.

All told, Coppin has won five of 341 games during the streak, with the closest being a five-game loss to Maryland-Eastern Shore in 1994.

As with all hexes, there were things the team tried to end it.

Ready said she wore certain socks, chewed gum during warm-ups. Anything to tilt the karmic balance.

"We all had things that we did [as] pre-game rituals," Ready said. "We had a favorite team jersey that we felt we played best in. I had certain music I would listen to. I would listen to [hip-hop group] SWV on the way to the matches on the van. It obviously didn't work."

The drought is a byproduct of conditions in the athletic department, which runs on a $1.78 million budget, among the smallest in Division I. Volleyball gets $30,000 for scholarships, $500 for recruiting.

"Either we raise the money to fund the program properly, or we'll be in a situation where we're going to be suffering," athletic director and men's basketball coach Fang Mitchell said. "Even when you look at the amount of money we use for the men's basketball program, it's not a lot."

As part of a department-wide push to schedule only Division I opponents, the Eagles have not faced Wilson College since beating them, nor any other non-Division I team.

Mitchell said the effort is intended to strengthen schedules among Coppin teams.

Asked if there were a chance of scheduling an especially weak team for morale purposes, Mitchell said no.

"I have a list of schools where I would have gone for a 'W' if I wanted one. But we're trying to do this thing right," Mitchell said.

"I expect people to win, I expect people to be competitive. We've had success stories with the little bit of money that we have. We need to be successful across the board with no excuses."

Mitchell said the entire athletic program grapples with a lack of revenue, including men's basketball, which has $343,000 in its budget ($9,000 for recruiting).

That team, which earned notoriety for the North Avenue school by upsetting heavily favored South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA tournament, will make $300,000 to $400,000 this season by playing eight games in which it will receive guaranteed money. ++ The post-expenses revenue will be split among the 15 teams at Coppin.

On a recent Tuesday night, past and present members of the men's basketball team stood waiting for the Coppin State-Norfolk State women's volleyball match to be played so the men could use the gym for a pickup game.

Assuming the home team would be swept, one former Eagles basketball star assured those around him that the game would be over in a minute.

That remark is evidence of the complexity of the relationship between the volleyball team and the rest of this small community of 3,500 students and faculty.

The player meant no harm, no more than that intended by barbs between siblings, and people throughout the athletic department are supportive, including basketball players.

"They're coming out to support us [men's basketball]," junior Greg Hammond said, "so I want to come out and support this team."

The team may have support, but those same supporters also don't mind making fun of it, either.

Indeed, the atmosphere isn't exactly somber among the nearly 200 people who witness this ritual of sorts.

As Coppin falls behind in the first game, laughter can be heard from those standing behind the handful of chairs facing the court. Norfolk State scores on an improbable service ace. Not long after, hang-time doesn't help the defense return a volley as two players nearly collide.

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