Remember 1982? The first-ever NCAA champion Lady Techsters do

SHOOTING FOR TWO: On March 28, 1982, Tournament MVP Janice Lawrence (5) and Tech beat Cheyney State (in white) for the sport’s first NCAA title; the Lady Techsters won the AIAW title the year before and finished the back-to-back seasons 69-1.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Columnist

Talking to Louisiana Tech’s Lady Techsters of today is not much different than talking to them 40 years ago, back when they were future Hall of Fame coaches or Kodak All-Americans or practice players or Wade Trophy winners, and the thing each of them had the most of was fun.

Today they might put you on hold to talk to a recruit or tell a husband they’ll be right back or quiet a grandbaby, but then it’s March 28, 1982 again, a Sunday afternoon in The Scope in Norfolk, Va., and they are crisp and cool and full of the energy they had at 18 or 21, happy and young and suited up, maybe even a little smugly satisfied with the assurance of the timelessness of both an unbreakable record and the bond forged from what they became, a bit giddy with the memories of what they did best — win games, and win championships.

One of four teams in the NCAA Women’s Final Four Tournament will do this weekend what they did in 1982’s first week of spring, something no team had ever been done before, something no team can ever do again.

They won the NCAA title.

And they did it before anyone else.

They’d gone 34-0 and won the AIAW championship the year before, beating Tennessee 79-59 in Eugene, Oregon. In ’82 it was 34-1 and a 76-62 win over Cheyney State in what had now become the NCAA Women’s Championship.

“A record that will never be broken: it was exciting from that standpoint,” said shooting guard Angela Turner, who that day scored in double figures for the 125th time in her Kodak All-America career. “There were so many people there…it was televised all over the country … And so many of our fans had traveled to be with us. No matter where we went, there was always somebody from Ruston there.”

“Anything that has the word ‘first’ and ‘national’ in it had to be special,” said Debbie Primeaux Williamson, a back-up guard and now a known-by-everyone, quietly efficient bigwig in administration in the women’s game. “Winning big games and winning a lot was special, but knowing it was the first ever NCAA Championship seemed extra special.”

“I was glad we were playing Cheyney because they loved to press and I knew I’d get in the game early,” said Kim Mulkey, who finished with six points and seven assists — one more than the whole Cheyney team — was voted the game’s outstanding player by the CBS-TV crew, and, while remembering that day, sounded like the game was about to start and she already knew how it would end. “They were gonna press and I knew we could run and I could get an assist or score on the other end of the floor.”

“I still watch a good bit of the game; there’s no question that team could play today,” said Leon Barmore, then associate head coach along with Sonja Hogg, today a Naismith and, as several on that ’82 team members are, a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer. “You’ve got some great teams and players out there, sure. But Angela, Janice (Lawrence), Pam (Kelly) … they’re all in the Hall of Fame and they didn’t get there by not being good.”

Lawrence had 20 points and was named the tournament’s MVP that day, and Kelly, who rewrote the program’s young record book for points, rebounds, and field goal percentage, would days later be named the season’s Wade Trophy Winner; Lawrence earned it two years later.

(A quick word about Hogg: In the March 29 editions of a local paper, the forward-thinking original Lady Techsters head coach was quoted as saying, “We won’t ever replace Turner and Kelly, but we have to get somebody in a uniform, hopefully somebody with a lot of talent.” This was in the middle of a run of 10 Final Fours and two Elite Eight appearances in 12 years. How’d that work out?)

During a time out as his team huddled with less than two minutes left in the title game, team trainer Sam Wilkinson, now retired in the Ruston area, displayed a T-shirt proclaiming Tech as the 1982 national champs.

“I’d been carrying that thing around in my trainer’s bag for two weeks,” Wilkinson said, laughing at the thought of something he hadn’t recalled in years. “Leon almost fell out.”

“Ol’ Sam, he got on TV pretty quick with that,” Barmore remembered.

Barmore gave lots of credit to “Ol’ Sam” for the championship; he got the team’s other star reserve besides Mulkey, forward Debra Rodman, ready to play in four of the five playoff games after Rodman had sprained an ankle in the regular-season finale. Good thing: Rodman came off the bench against Cheyney to get 14 points and a team-best 11 rebounds in just 24 minutes.

But there was one problem even Sam couldn’t solve. In pregame warmups, Rodman broke a bra strap. Nothing a female friend and a safety pin couldn’t fix, proof that even when the Lady Techsters didn’t let it all hang out, they sort of still did.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

Photo courtesy LOUISIANA TECH