Terps Win

Ecstatic students dance on U.S. 1

Ncaa Women's Final


COLLEGE PARK -- Thousands of jubilant students crowded onto U.S. 1 in a raucous celebration last night as the Terps clinched the NCAA women's championship over those despised Blue Devils from Duke.

Police in full riot gear cleared the crowd from the street before things got too hectic - but not before some students ignited a small fire using newspapers and at least a couple of them mounted a parked bus to bust some dance moves. The fire was quickly extinguished, and students were ushered from atop the bus.

"Let's go Maryland!" the crowd chanted as police moved the students to the sidewalk amid a celebration that was part ecstatic and part on "best behavior," perhaps a signal of lessons learned after University System regents cracked down to prevent a repeat of the rioting that ensued when the men's team won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship two years ago.

It could not be immediately determined whether there were any arrests, but about a half-hour after it all began, students were heading back to their dorms.

They continued to celebrate on campus past midnight, as traffic resumed on U.S. 1 under the stern watch of police on the streets and in helicopters overhead.

Michael Kane, an Ellicott City freshman, said the crowd was far from a mob, more like "an organized bunch of celebrators."

"People know this is the place to come and celebrate," Kane said. "We're like a family here. It shows the girls we care about them, too."

Just minutes before, students had rushed a stage in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union - dancing and shouting - as the women's team came from behind to win the NCAA national basketball championship in overtime.

One male student, dashing outside, shouted, "We're going streaking!"

Victoria Wedge came prepared for last night's game, sporting University of Maryland gear and waving her "Fear the Turtle" poster. A Terps fan all her life, the sophomore from Landover was brimming with excitement as she lined up at the student union to watch the UM women vie for a national title on a movie-size TV screen with hundreds of fanatical fellow fans.

The only thing out of place was her friend - Natasha Ellis of Silver Spring - an island of Duke University blue in a sea of red, black and white.

The UM sophomore was proudly proclaiming her love of Duke sports despite being rejected for admission there while insisting that she's not the least bit contrary.

Wedge wasn't buying it.

She noted that her friend also cheers for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees.

"She always wants to go against the grain," Wedge said.

Wedge and Ellis were among hundreds of students and enthusiastic others who turned out to cheer on the Terps.

Terps fever was slow to rise, compared with the 2002 championship run of the men's basketball team. By the time of tip-off, the William L. Hoff Theater was about half-full, though its occupants supplied enough enthusiasm for a full house.

By the end of the game, the theater was packed, and when a three-point shot by Kristi Toliver sent the final into overtime, students jumped and danced on the stage.

Before the game, students and plain old fans agreed that whatever the outcome, the women in shorts had done wonders for morale at College Park after the dismal season endured by their male counterparts.

Ashkon Eslmi confidently predicted that "the women in blue" would be ducking out early.

"I know they're going to win. It's destiny that we're here tonight. No one picked us to come this far," he said.

Eslmi, a Germantown freshman said UM men are "starting to come around," and cheer for the women's team.

His girlfriend and fellow freshman, Meagan Wells of Gaithersburg, said the guys have been "a little slow to catch on," but were finally getting excited about the women's success.

"It took the girls to get this far for [the male students] to recognize them," she said.

Her boyfriend, she allowed, was an enlightened exception.

Joshua Benkin, a 44-year-old government worker from Rockville, was another early believer.

"Just a fan," who didn't attend UM, he went to seven women's games this season and none of the men's. "The tickets are expensive," he said.

Besides, he added, the men's team - which didn't make it to the NCAA tournament - "hasn't been anything to write home about this year."

Though Benkin said he was not surprised by the women's appearance in the Final Four, he admitted to being "a little nervous" about a match-up with archrival Duke. He said he expects the UM women to be even better next year.

Mike O'Rourke, a senior from East Brunswick, N.J., said the women are plenty good right now. He knows - because he played against them as a member of the scout team when he was a sophomore and a junior.

"I used to come home bruised and bleeding, you wouldn't believe," he said.

Terps star Shay Doron, kicked him in the eye once, he recalled.

"I didn't know an eyeball could bleed," he said.

Not everyone was swept up in the frenzy, however.

Robyn Epstein, a graduate student from Chicago, was walking past the student union as the game got under way inside. She said she had just come from a talk by Leslie Feinberg, a "transgendered feminist, socialist, anti-racist organizer." Far from being disappointed with the lecture turnout on the big basketball night, she said that 150 people had attended.

"I put social justice in front of basketball," Epstein said.

But she said she had some warm feelings about the women's basketball success.

"I think about Title IX and I'm happy about it," she said.

Told that the game had just started, Epstein said she might tune in and watch the end of it.


Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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