Editor's Note: With its next women's basketball win, Kansas State University will hit the 800th all-time win milestone in women's basketball. Yesterday and today, "Sports Extra" has been taking a look at that 43-year history of the women's game at K-State with several of the coaches who have contributed to this remarkable accomplishment. The Wildcats play for that 800th win tonight at 7:05 at the University of Nebraska. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Midwest.
By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Judy Akers was Kansas State's coach for all sports in all seasons starting in the late 1960s through the 1970s.
If it had to do with a ball, Akers was the one to initiate the program whether on the club level, or eventually Big 8 Conference competitive level at K-State.
While few seemed to care at the time, if there was a map for women's basketball at that time, it was Akers who gave the Wildcats a place. In 11 years, six of her teams won at least 20 games, nine times K-State won the state title, and twice the Big 8 crown. Five times she took K-State into the AIAW national tournament, which included sixth-place finishes in 1973 and 1975.
With K-State viewed as one of the players in women's basketball, that didn't necessarily mean that it had its pick among national coaches to replace Akers following the 1979 season.
The call went to ... who?
The name was Lynn Hickey; her age was 26. Her experience included only four years of high school coaching in the state of Missouri and one season as an assistant at the University of Oklahoma.
"That type of hire of a 26-year-old wouldn't happen today," laughed Hickey, who is currently serving as athletics director at Texas-San Antonio and is only the second female ever to be on the NCAA Selection Committee for men's basketball. "Bill and I had just built a home in Norman, and part of me didn't want to come. I know I cried all the way home, but Bill encouraged me to take the job. Thank goodness I said yes."
Hickey is of the age that she was a part of the development of women's basketball from half-court play to being a part of the first women's game to go five-on-five while at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., in 1969-70, when institutions played under AAU rules.
As the women's sport matured through the ranks of AIAW basketball, and finally into the NCAA in 1981-82, Hickey's resume grew with it.
Her first team made it to the AIAW National Tournament in 1980, and in her third, fourth and fifth seasons the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
"We almost made it to the Final Four that first year of NCAA basketball and didn't even know what we had done," said Hickey, who had a coaching salary of $24,000 at K-State. "There weren't bonuses for coaches and our kids didn't get rings. Times have changed."
With Akers doing the dirty work of laying the foundation for women's athletics at K-State, Hickey said, "Judy was so confrontational and had done so much to give us a chance, when I came in it was my challenge to make everybody comfortable and feeling good about women's sports. Honestly, I had it very good. Our team had its own cheerleaders, its own band, its own TV show and what fans we had were incredibly loyal. Not many programs around the country could say that. DeLoss Dodds (K-State AD) would meet me at the locker room door after every home game. Not many coaches had that type of support."
When Hickey left for Texas A&M, Matilda Mossman coached the Wildcats for five seasons, which included a Big 8 title in 1987.
Gaye Griffin was the Wildcats' interim coach in 1989-90, followed by Susan Yow from 1990-93, Brian Agler from 1993-96, and Jack Hartman as an interim coach for seven games to close out the 1996 season. These were a collective seven seasons when K-State had just one 20-game winner and two plus-.500 seasons.
While none of the coaches were blessed with a solid student fan base, as Mossman said, "We had our own fan base from the community that was absolutely die-hard fans. The support we enjoyed was at a higher level than most Big 8 schools."
K-State's next hire was Deb Patterson, who has guided the Wildcats to 296 victories, and counting, in the last 15 years. Her teams have been in 11 postseason events in her first 14 years, which includes a WNIT Championship in 2006, and in 2002 had the Wildcats ranked No. 2 in the nation. In 2004 and 2008 K-State won the Big 12 championship.
Today, Mossman coaches at Norman (Okla.) High School where she has been to seven state tournaments in a row, which included a 2005 state championship and runner-up finish in 2010. On the level of play seen today in women's hoops, she says, "I'm not surprised. The sport had been repressed for so long, when finally given the opportunity to play, the game flourished to what you see on television today."
While Akers won with walk-ons from the state of Kansas, Hickey was given scholarships to work with and went nationwide with her ace recruiter Sally Anthony. Prize recruits included Cassandra Jones and Carlisa Thomas from Florida, Priscilla Gary from Tennessee, and Angie Bonner and Barbara Gilmore from St. Louis.
"By the time I came along we had money to recruit, and once we got them on campus, we had foster families for the kids to make them feel at home," said Hickey. "With the friendly community of Manhattan to go along with the campus life, we had a lot to draw to. (Pause) And, we were winning."
Mossman's teams won with such Sunflower State products playing pivotal roles as Susan Green was from Anthony, Diana Miller was from Hutchinson, and Nadira Hazim from Topeka.
Today, Patterson has carried on the tradition of looking first within her own state to land such All-Americans as Nicole Ohlde from Clay Center, Kendra Wecker from Marysville, Laurie Koehn of Moundridge and Shalee Lehning from Sublette.
While each coach has her/his own method, what each did was win. They won, and today are proud to be a part of the K-State program that will reach 800 wins with its next victory.
"I'm just proud to be a very small piece of it," said Mossman.
Echoing those words, was Hickey, while Patterson summarized on the players and coaches that came before her, "Those are the people that have put Kansas State in the position to become one of the finest in the game; 800 wins in the history of the program is a very significant milestone."
Kansas State's All-Time Women's Basketball Coaches
Judy Akers, 1968-79, (W-L) 206-94; Lynn Hickey, 1979-84, 125-39; Matilda Mossman, 1984-90, 83-68; Gaye Griffin, 1989-90 (interim), 17-8; Susan Yow, 1990-93, 31-51; Bill Agler, 1993-96, 38-39; Jack Hartman, 1996 (interim), 3-4; Deb Patterson, 1996-present, 296-171