Yow's fight, Wolfpack's surge winning fans

Updated: March 24, 2007, 7:40 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, NC -- These days, everyone is a fan of Kay Yow.

North Carolina State players were cheered as they strode onto their home court at the NCAA Tournament. Yet fans seemed hesitant to let loose, and many looked toward the tunnel awaiting their star.

When coach Yow finally emerged, fans roared their approval with a standing ovation. The cheers came from Duke fans lingering from the earlier game and Baylor fans planning to root against the Wolfpack minutes later.

These days, the Hall of Fame coach with more than 700 career victories is being saluted for her graceful and courageous fight against cancer. Her players, wearing pink shoelaces, are preparing for the program's first trip to the round of 16 in six years.

"Nationally, it is realized that she is battling for her life,'' said Nora Lynn Finch, a senior associate athletic director and senior women's administrator at NC State. "Every person is touched by cancer in some way, and everybody is paying attention to Kay Yow -- how she is battling the disease, how she is coaching her team and how she is faring.

"Right now, everybody is a fan for Kay Yow because everybody is pulling for her to make it.''

Heading into Saturday's game (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) against top-seeded Connecticut in the Fresno Regional, NC State (25-9) has won 12 of 14 games since Yow returned from a 16-game leave because of cancer treatment. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 and it first recurred during the 2004-05 season, forcing her to miss two games while attending an eight-day nutritional modification program.

She has remained courtside as much as possible, though it hasn't been easy. She has almost weekly chemotherapy sessions, and the treatments have weakened her. She left practice on a stretcher in February after an adverse reaction from a drug to treat the side effects of chemotherapy.

The Wolfpack's run of three games in three days during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final earlier this month left her drained and so hoarse she could barely talk.

Through it all, she has spent most of the games sitting on the bench while associate head coach Stephanie Glance -- who led the team during both of Yow's absences -- stands to shout instructions at players. At times, Yow is helped to her feet by Glance because of numbness in her toes.

The day the NCAA field was announced, her father, Hilton, died at 87 of congestive heart failure.

Yet Yow has remained -- as Glance coined -- "The Iron Woman.''

Asked if there was a chance she wouldn't make the cross-country flight with her team after its second-round win over Baylor, Yow broke into an almost "Are you serious?'' grin.

"There's not a chance,'' she said with a chuckle. "I'd have to take a real turn here in the next day or two.''

The school will send a nurse along with Yow to California, and her oncologist said he modified her treatments this week to hopefully give her more strength throughout the tournament.

"I just wanted her to feel as well as possible,'' said Dr. Mark Graham, who called Yow's treatments life-extending'' instead of curative. "It's a long trip for anybody to make.''

This season's success is one of many milestones in Yow's 36-year career, with 32 in Raleigh. Her résumé already includes coaching the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988, winning four ACC tournament championships, earning 20 NCAA Tournament bids, reaching the 1998 Final Four and being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002.

Last month, NC State beat rival North Carolina on the night the school dedicated "Kay Yow Court'' in Reynolds Coliseum. Then the Wolfpack handed top-ranked Duke its only loss of the season in the ACC tournament semifinals. Both teams ended up No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

The most recent high point came Tuesday night, when the fourth-seeded Wolfpack held off fifth-seeded Baylor 78-72 in overtime. That gave NC State -- which had lost in the first round of the tournament in each of the past three seasons -- its first trip to the round of 16 since 2001.

Afterward, several Baylor players hugged Yow shortly before the Wolfpack players excitedly did the same. Photographers gathered around and took shot after shot on the court, while the fans serenaded them all with another standing ovation.

One fan held a sign that read "Kay Yow=My Hero.'' Several others wore pink, the color designated for breast cancer awareness.

Yow then turned to the crowd, smiled and triumphantly extended both arms to hold up the Wolfpack hand gestures.

This was her moment.

"This is huge,'' senior guard Ashley Key said. "I mean, just for the look on her face after the game. She looked like a kid in a candy store.''


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press