If you interact with Miami Hurricanes Women’s Basketball, you’ll quickly encounter an atmosphere that resembles a family more so than a basketball program.
When the players talk about their coach and vice versa they do more than merely pay lip service to their affinity for each other. The genuine mutual respect and love is obvious. You could see it in Katie Meier’s post-Indiana interview:
— Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) March 21, 2023
The affection she expresses for two of her warriors….who wouldn’t want to play for someone like that? It’s easy to get buy in when the culture is love and respect. You see it in seniors like Karla Erjavec who has had to take more of a backseat this year. Rather than expressing bitterness, she is “grateful” for Coach Meier. Love is forever.
A Long Time Coming
This culture did not happen overnight. Since Meier stepped foot on campus she has elevated the program, not just on the court, but off it. It took a while to lay that foundation and have it pay off. Her first 5 seasons featured 2 trips to the WNIT and no NCAA Tournament appearances. Within the program, everyone could see progress. Externally, it wasn’t as evident.
And then it was. In 2010-11, the Miami Hurricanes won the ACC, which allowed them to earn a 3-seed. If you’re familiar with the current version of the Women’s NCAA Tournament, you’d assume the Canes hosted the first 2 rounds of the NCAA Tournament. That assumption is incorrect. Instead, they went to Charlottesville and lost a tight 2nd round game to Oklahoma.
This was the beginning of a disappointing trend. Miami would make the NCAA Tournament in 7 of 8 years, but never get to the Sweet 16. A 3-seed in 2012 was “rewarded” with a road game in Spokane. The Canes repeatedly knocked on the door, but the Sweet 16 never answered. Heartbreaking 2nd round home losses to Quinnipiac and Arizona State followed.
The way the Canes just couldn’t get over the hump was bizarre.
Something always goes wrong.
And there at the center of it was Coach Meier. Her stoicism in the face of unwarranted criticism, her approachability…I’m sure the criticism bothered her, but she would never let that be visible. She had her Canes family to think of, to be the rock for.
Look Inward and Running to the Top of the ACC
The Canes team and their loyal, rabid supporters turn inward. Block out the noise. The thing with family is they have each other’s back. In the face of criticism, the Canes didn’t get weaker, they got stronger.
The 2021-22 season did not get off to a good start. The Canes were injured and losing games. Destiny Harden missed significant time.
Miami arrived at the 2022 ACC Tournament as a bubble team. The ACC, always a strong conference, had 2 teams that were slated to be #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. And Miami met one of those teams, Louisville, in the quarterfinals.
The Canes trailed late, 59-44. There was no indication that Destiny Harden was about to unleash one of the finest athletic performances in school history.
Over the course of the last 4 minutes of the game. Destiny Harden scored the last 15 points of the game, including the winning jumper at the buzzer. The win removed any doubt about the Canes’ NCAA Tournament prospects and Miami advanced all the way to the ACC Tournament Final.
It could have been a crowning achievement in Harden’s career. And for a mere mortal, it might have been. We now know it wasn’t.
The Canes carried momentum into the NCAA Tournament and were at the top of their game.
And then the draw happened. Miami was playing some of the best ball in the country and certainly capable of reaching the Sweet 16. But if you’ve read this far, you know what happened. The Canes were sent to South Carolina. As of this writing the Gamecocks still have not lost a game since that draw. Miami blew out USF in the 1st game and actually challenged South Carolina, but ultimately were overwhelmed.
Something always goes wrong.
Last offseason, Miami attracted attention for recruiting the Cavinder Sisters, Haley and Hanna. To the world, they were celebrities, a side show. To the Canes Basketball Family, they knew they had acquired ballers. First in the gym, last ones out. Work ethic ingrained, great teammates.
But the NCAA did not like the Canes having attention. Before the start of the season, Coach Meier, widely recognized as one of the classiest people in college athletics, agreed to a 3-game suspension without any comment on what precipitated it. Typical of Meier, she took a bullet for her team, her program, and for the university. The problem with being a high character person in power is that you sometimes have to be the fall gal. And Meier was. With her absent (not just at games but at practice), the Canes stumbled a bit out the gates.
Things went from bad to worse when the Canes were hit with a multitude of injuries. At one point, the Canes lost 6 of 9 games. The train appeared to be going off the tracks. But Miami dug deep and started gutting out games. Winning just enough to stay afloat. The team was not necessarily playing well, as they tried to integrate new players, as injuries led to inconsistency.
The Canes never quit, and after beating several ranked teams, found themselves on the bubble. But the NCAA wasn’t done with Miami yet. They chose the week of the final game of the year, right before the Canes closed out the season with a home game against Virginia, to try and disrupt Miami again, releasing why Meier was suspended (for violating the rules the NCAA acknowledged didn’t exist at the time of the alleged violation).
Something always goes wrong.
Miami entered Selection Sunday on the bubble. And then they received a 9-seed. What that meant is that they not only had to upset 8-seeded Oklahoma State but then would have to win at the #1 seed, Indiana.
Something always goes wrong.
Except these Canes wouldn’t allow it to go wrong. Down 17 at the half to Oklahoma State, the season seemed to be headed off a cliff. But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion to the Canes’ season.
They refused to let it end. Miami blitzed the Cowgirls to start the second half and in the blink of an eye had tied the game. They then overcame some bad luck and atrocious officiating to see the game out, winning by 1. That win happened in Bloomington, but it was forged over years of character building wins and losses.
But Indiana promised to be a different challenge.
Maybe it was because no one gave them much of a chance. Maybe it was because the team was finally getting close to healthy. Maybe it was because if you spend so much time doing things the right way, you’ll eventually come out on top.
Whatever the reason, no one in Assembly Hall was prepared for the Category 5 hurricane that these ladies unleashed on Indiana. The Canes jumped the Hoosiers and as the lead continued to expand, the Canes dream started to become a reality. If you thought Indiana would go away easily, you haven’t been paying attention.
Something always goes wrong, and in this case, the something was missed FTs and clutch 3-point shooting from Indiana. Miami was on the precipice of clinching the game multiple times, but found themselves tied with 6 seconds left, staring overtime in the face.
There was only one thing left to do. Coach Meier best summarized what happened next. “You give Miami a chance, Miami’s going to win the game.”
And you know who the ball was going to. Miami’s destiny was in Destiny’s hands. And she delivered, as she always does.
Destiny Harden is a GAMER 😤
The shot that sent us to the Sweet Sixteen‼️ pic.twitter.com/noFvEh9nvU
— Hurricanes Women’s Basketball (@CanesWBB) March 21, 2023
Something always goes wrong…except this time the Canes said no. They were no longer going to be denied. After 18 years, Coach Meier’s family had reached their destination. Redefining toughness.
A weaker culture would have folded.
Folded when the media scrutiny attempted to turn the Cavinder sisters into a side show.
Folded when the coach was unjustifiably suspended.
Folded when several key players were injured.
Folded amidst a rough patch.
Folded when the NCAA tried to derail the season.
Folded when they were drawn into Bloomington.
Folded down 17 to Oklahoma State.
Folded when Indiana tied the game.
But not these Canes. Their Destiny was in Greenville. Perhaps it was because of rather than in spite of the tribulations that the Canes are so strong. The familial bonds forged in practiced, hardened under unjust criticism, refused to be broken.
For Coach Meier, it is another step on her ascension up the historical ranks of great coaches in women’s basketball history.
Sometimes, good people finish first. Sometimes life is fair.
Sometimes, nothing goes wrong.