2013-'14 Season Coverage
Article updated: 3/18/2011 12:29 AM
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Meier, Miami ready to storm NCAA Tournament
 

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Meier, Miami ready to storm NCAA Tournament
  • Katie Meier

    Katie Meier

 

Katie Meier is in the conversation for college basketball's national coach of the year, her Miami Hurricanes the story of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Amid the whirlwind that is NCAA Tournament week, Meier's memories of her Wheaton roots remain strong.

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"I remember the first day of tryouts, hoping I would make my first team, the Edison Panthers," Meier said. "I have vivid memories of my yellow Chuck Taylors."

Meier has come a long way since those humble beginnings, which eventually led to becoming all-state at Wheaton Central and a record-breaking four years at Duke.

Her Hurricanes have come a long way, too.

To say their turnaround is dramatic would be an understatement.

Miami went from last place in the ACC a year ago to a 12-2 finish this year, tying Duke for the regular-season title. Miami's 12 conference wins matched the total from its last 69 games in ACC play entering this season. Miami is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004.

The Hurricanes' worst-to-first had never been done in the ACC.

"It's a big deal," said ACC Coach of the Year Meier, who took over the Miami job in 2004. "Miami hasn't made an impact on the women's basketball side in the ACC until this year. I really love the ACC and I'm darn proud that we put together the squad we have."

Meier spent seven seasons as an assistant at Tulane, then took over Charlotte in 2001. When Miami fired popular coach Ferne Labati in 2004 after 17 seasons, it turned to Meier to pump enthusiasm into its program.

She promised it would not be a quick fix, and it wasn't.

The Hurricanes toiled through three losing seasons before Meier led them to the WNIT final last year. Perhaps that was a precursor to the big season ahead.

What Meier saw was three straight top recruiting classes assembled, a collection capable of greatness.

"It's surprising from the outside," Meier said, "but we saw the seeds coming. We had a couple game-changing players on our team and they learned to play together."

Two of those are ACC Player of the Year Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, the ACC's leading scorer, a combo nicknamed "Fire and Ice."

Now the Hurricanes take a 27-4 record into the NCAA Tournament, where Miami's No. 3 seed is the second best in program history. Miami plays Gardner-Webb in a first-round game at 12:15 p.m. Sunday in Charlottesville, Va.

Meier hopes Miami's manic "risk/reward" style that she said has forced "a billion turnovers" can translate well to the tournament. Duke coach Debbie Leonard has said that "Katie played like a Hurricane -- and that's exactly what you see with her team."

"It's a courageous and empowering style of play," Meier said.

Meier's ties to this area still run deep.

Her mom and step-dad now live in Aurora, and she comes home every Christmas. Wheaton Warrenville South girls basketball coach Rob Kroehnke was the best man at her brother's wedding, and she keeps up with her former coaches. Meier even got to watch WW South play over the holidays.

She returned to Wheaton for her induction into the WW South Hall of Fame in 2009.

It was 25 seasons ago last year that Meier led Wheaton Central to a runner-up finish at state, to this day Wheaton's best finish in girls basketball.

Meier values where it all started for her.

The youngest of eight children, Meier forever battled her older brothers on the driveway basketball court on Elm Street.

"I always think back to the fact that I had no idea what the possibilities were in women's basketball," Meier said. "I was just playing because I liked to play."

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