Plenty of two-hankie affairs

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPNET SportsZone


FEBRUARY 19, 1999

OK, admittedly some of us will cry over anything (the Hallmark commercial where they send the poor old lady a card ... every single scene where Dorothy tears up in the"Wizard of Oz'' ... a "very special'' episode of "Facts of Life.'')

But even it you're not a waterworks, last week provided plenty of "OK, I'm losing it here'' moments. And the rest of the month will have more.

 Stephanie White-McCarty
Stephanie White-McCarty got off her sick bed to play against Penn State.

One of the most emotional games of the season was last Friday's 76-74 overtime victory by Purdue at Penn State.

You had Michael Peck, a Penn State assistant coach, giving pregame flowers to his sister, Carolyn Peck, Purdue's head coach who is out of West Lafayette and headed for Orlando and the WNBA when the college season ends.

You had the Boilermakers' Stephanie White-McCarty almost actually boiling; she had a fever all day.

You had Purdue's Ukari Figgs coming back from grieving in Kentucky over her grandmother's death -- and having to get to State College from Pittsburgh by taxi when her flight was canceled.

And you had Figgs going to teammate Katie Douglas just before the end of regulation and asking Douglas to win the game for her.

Finally, you had Douglas doing just that -- stomping twice on the valiant Penn State kids' hearts -- hitting the game-tying shot to send it to overtime and then the shot to win it.

For crying out loud, this wasn't a basketball game. This was one of those old box-of-Kleenex movies like "Imitation of Life.''

Purdue confirmed the belief of its fans and many of the Big Ten contingent that the Boilermakers are one of those teams that will find whatever way possible to win (the same thing Tennessee fans think about their team). The victory over Penn State officially clinched the league regular-season title.

Then the Boilers celebrated senior day at Mackey Arena with a sellout crowd of more than 14,000, clobbering Ohio State on Sunday.

But there were other Valentine's Day senior send-offs to remember, such as Amy Herrig's at Iowa.

With the Hawkeyes' struggles this year, you haven't heard much nationally about Herrig. But this is a kid who ought to be getting the WNBA's eye. She leads the Big Ten in double-doubles with 15, and in a January game had 25 rebounds.

Quick Herrig story: She played at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver in 1995, fresh out of high school. She was one of dozens of kids I interviewed at the event, but among the most memorable simply because of her poise.

You never know what you'll get from an teen-ager. Most are pretty good, but some are still in the giggle phase or the "I'm-too-shy-to-talk-to-anyone-but- my-friends phase. (The latter usually causes a reporter to remark to a teammate or coach, "Gee, she sure is quiet,'' causing them to laugh at you, "Are you kidding? We can't shut her up.'')

But Herrig sounded so grown-up, if you didn't know how old she was, you wouldn't have guessed.

Anyway, Sunday in her final game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Herrig had 42 points -- the highest total in the Big Ten this season and the fourth-highest all-time in the league.

Clemson also celebrated senior day with a bang, handing visiting Duke its first ACC loss. The Blue Devils already had clinched the league regular-season title but were stopped short of a chance to run the table.

Duke, no surprise, climbed out of a major hole vs Clemson, but Tigers seniors Itoro Umoh and Natasha Anderson kept kicking the Devils back down. Both finished with 24 points to lead Clemson, which helped its cause for getting a top-16 NCAA seed.

Meanwhile back in the Triangle, North Carolina rallied in beating Virginia 82-80 in overtime.

Thursday night at Tennessee was the official farewell in Knoxville to Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly (though, of course, they'll be back for the NCAA Tournament). And while that certainly gets thousands of Tennessee fans pretty misty, the fact that there is a WNBA now makes these affairs, while still sad, not absolutely heartbreaking.

We won't be robbed of the rest of the careers of Holdsclaw or White-McCarty or any of their fellow Class of '99 members who make it.

Still, it's a good idea for all you softies to stuff a couple of tissues in your pockets for other senior tributes.

Just down the road from me at Kansas, they throw flowers on the floor to say goodbye to the seniors. When the Tamecka Dixon-led class got its farewell in 1997, the sight of a little boy about knee-high running down the sidewalk toward Allen Fieldhouse with a fistful of flowers ...

Hey, I didn't cry (as oft-stated, journalists only weep if they run out of Diet Coke in the media room), but, you know, it was pretty windy that day. Made the eyes water a bit.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is