First NCAA win a long time coming for Georgia Tech

Updated: March 18, 2007, 7:19 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Year after year, it seemed something bad would happen to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets would get some good chemistry going, then somebody would tear an ACL. Then she'd come back, and somebody else would blow a knee.

Chioma Nnamaka
AP Photo/Paul SakumaChioma Nnamaka and Georgia Tech celebrated their first NCAA Tournament win.
They'd come close to nabbing a big victory, fall just short. When some superpowers started to lag in the ACC, others stepped up. And those "others" were never the Yellow Jackets.

Agnus Berenato was always one of the funniest coaches in the country. But you figured that sometimes she had to laugh to keep from crying.

She took over at Tech in 1989, after her sister, Bernadette McGlade, had spent seven seasons at the school with only one winning record (14-13).

In 1992 under Berenato, the Jackets went 20-13 overall and 6-10 in the ACC -- and took Virginia right down to the wire in the league tournament title game. The Cavs won 70-69 and went on to the Final Four that season. But once again, it was an "almost" that wasn't enough to get Tech its first NCAA Tournament berth.

Instead, the Jackets got that the next season, when they went 16-11 and 6-10. That was because Atlanta was the host city for the 1993 Final Four, and thus the committee bent over backward to get Tech in the field. The Jackets got blown out in the first round by Northwestern, which simply saved them the humiliation of being blown out by Tennessee in the second round.

Ten years later, the Final Four returned to Peach City -- and Tech got in again, this time at 20-11 and 8-8. This time, Tech lost a tough one, 61-59 to Virginia Tech. That was Berenato's final season at Georgia Tech, and the closest she ever got to a winning record in the ACC.

Berenato moved to Pittsburgh, and her assistant, MaChelle Joseph, took over at Tech. And in Joseph's first three seasons, it didn't appear anything was going to be different at Tech. She was 41-44 overall and 11-33 in the league. Just as it had always been, Tech showed little flashes but ultimately didn't pan out. It seemed to be the program's fate to really never be "awful" but also never be any kind of contender.

But then the Jackets finally found an oasis this season. More likely, you could say they created it themselves. At last, Tech finished with a winning ACC mark: 9-5, which included a victory over defending national champion Maryland. Tech went 20-11 overall and earned an at-large bid, and this time it had nothing to do with a Final Four in Atlanta. Tech earned this one straight up, no question about it.

And on Saturday, it finally happened: Georgia Tech won its first NCAA Tournament game, and did it in wonderfully dramatic fashion. Jacqua Williams' runner in the lane with just more than 2 seconds left gave the seventh-seeded Jackets a 55-54 win over No. 10 seed DePaul. But the Jackets did it, and now they really will be the underdog in a matchup that is right out of the "we scripted it" department. Joseph will meet up with her alma mater, Purdue, in the second round.

She is the school's all-time scoring leader, who then became an assistant for the Boilermakers … and was fired, along with head coach Lin Dunn, in 1996. It was a very, very unpleasant departure, one that Joseph wasn't sure at the time she could overcome.

How much 11 years' time has healed any wounds on both sides is up for conjecture. There are certainly Purdue fans who fully supported Dunn and her staff, and others who didn't. Joseph would probably just as soon not dredge up much of the past; it's of no benefit to what she's trying to do now at Georgia Tech. She has already been asked, of course, when the matchup was just a possibility. She said what you might expect: She learned a lot from the situation at Purdue.

Now, there will be even more questions. And if that's the price to pay for her program getting a breakthrough victory, Joseph knows it's worth it. Afterall, it's been a long time coming.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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