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Gorches: VU’s Dorow has a lot of work to do

Head coach Tracey Dorow watches from bench as Crusaders take Holy Cross Valparaiso University Monday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times

Head coach Tracey Dorow watches from the bench as the Crusaders take on Holy Cross at Valparaiso University Monday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 1, 2013 4:10PM



How far has the Valparaiso University women’s basketball program fallen? The simple answer is … as far as possible in a fairly short period of time without reaching rock bottom, yet.

As good as VU basketball fans feel about the men’s program with its Horizon League championship season and subsequent NCAA tournament appearance — even though the selection committee saddled the Crusaders with a 14 seed while teams with lesser resumes got more favorable seeds and draws (Montana, South Dakota State, etc.) — the women’s program has become quite depressing to think about.

The latest news causes more head shaking.

Three players — including the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Tabitha Gerardot (15.5 ppg., 9.2 rpg.) — are leaving for different reasons. Gerardot is leaving after graduating this spring to pursue a master’s degree in linguistics. Shaquira Scott and Maegan Callaway are leaving to look for better opportunities, whether it’s academically, athletically or both.

Not exactly what first-year coach Tracey Dorow signed on for last April after replacing longtime coach Keith Freeman.

“We appreciate what they have done for the program,” Dorow said in a release. “We wish them all the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

Dorow told the Post-Tribune that Scott is “just ready for a change” and that Callaway “might not last the next two years” due to multiple injuries. Callaway will look to play at a lower level of basketball.

The theme here is that all three were recruited by Freeman as the program was declining. Somewhat fittingly, Freeman’s resignation was announced on the Ides of March last year after 18 seasons at the helm. He had a slightly above average record of 286-247 at Valparaiso with a few moments — two Mid-Continent Conference titles, back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2003 and 2004 and one victory over a ranked opponent in the program’s history (a 71-60 win over No. 21 Purdue in 2008 at the Athletics-Recreation Center.

But his last couple seasons weren’t memorable — 7-23 in 2010-11 and 10-21 in 2011-12 with a win in the first round of the Horizon League tourney before being throttled by nationally-ranked Green Bay.

That’s the same thing that happened this season under Dorow with a slightly better record (11-20), another first-round win and a blowout loss at Green Bay.

And to add salt to the wound, Dorow has to deal with the exodus of three players.

I’m sure Gerardot really wants to pursue a degree that VU doesn’t have, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.

Scott and Callaway were obviously flawed recruits and that goes back to Freeman. Why would Scott need to look for a change unless the Crusaders program wasn’t up to the standards she needed for her own career.

And Callaway’s “body just can’t take it” as Dorow put it? Again, that goes back to being a flawed recruit — Freeman’s flawed recruit. It’s harsh, but true. Like a professional sports general manager, you are what you draft — or recruit — and if those draft choices or recruits don’t work out down the road, it’s on you.

So now Dorow has to recruit even better to make up for the losses, not to mention building the program from the bottom to get it back to the 2003-04 days so players don’t leave anymore.

There’s no reason the Valparaiso women’s program can’t emulate the Horizon’s crown jewel and team that has eliminated VU from the conference tourney the last two year’s, Green Bay.

The Phoenix boasted a five-woman senior class that went 5-4 in the NCAA tournament in their four years, winning a first-round game each season and reaching the Sweet 16 in 2011 before losing to top-ranked Baylor by 10 points. In fact, in each of Green Bay’s NCAA losses after winning the previous game, it was a close game, showing that the Phoenix deserved to be there.

Are you telling me it’s easier to recruit to Green Bay than Valparaiso? So the NFL football team with 13 championships attracts women’s basketball players? Uh, I don’t think so. The city is smaller than the Northwest Indiana area surrounding VU, and there’s not much difference in social life or amenities. In fact, I think there’s more appealing aspects to NWI than Green Bay, and my parents live up there — and they’d admit Packerland isn’t exactly a hopping place for college kids.

The Phoenix program only had a slightly better history of success than VU before the last four years. Now, all of a sudden, Green Bay’s latest success will breed better recruiting classes because winning cures all.

Valparaiso is far from that point, but there’s no reason why it can’t get there.

Women’s college basketball is pretty simple — there are haves and have-nots and the gap between them is larger than ever, and larger than at any point in the history of NCAA men’s basketball. If you aren’t playing for Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford or Tennessee — throw in the random Texas A&M (2011) and Maryland (2006 ) wins — you have no chance at getting to the national championship game, let alone winning it. So it’s up to the rest to get the best secondary talent to succeed on a smaller scale, winning a game or two in the NCAA tourney.

It’d be nice for Valparaiso to at least get to the Horizon League tournament final before getting its hopes up on making the NCAA again. Heck, a berth in the WNIT would be an accomplishment, but that’s a long way off with so much hard work for Dorow after three players decided the grass was greener elsewhere.



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