Louisiana Tech thunders into the women's basketball spotlight

The most celebrated athletic product of Louisiana Tech University is Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw. But during the past two years, the women's basketball team has gained in popularity, drawing nearly 4,000 fans per contest to see perhaps the best team in the country.

Last season the Lady Techsters recorded 32 straight wins in the regular season, then went on to defeat Southern California and Tennessee to win the women's national title. The team returned all its top players and is threatening to repeat as champion. Top-ranked Tech goes up against Tennessee (22-9) in the NCAA semifinal action Friday, with the winner to face either Cheyney State or Maryland in Sunday's nationally telecast (CBS, noon, ET) championship game from Norfolk, Va.

The women's program at Tech began in 1973, when a group of female students went to the university administration to discuss the possibility of forming a team. President F.J. Taylor's knowledge of what would be involved in setting up a team, as well as his leadership in taking action, sparked the program.

Sonja Hogg, a new physical education teacher on the Ruston, La., campus in 1974, was given the coaching job that year. Under her exuberant guidance, the program grew. Tech went on to win 13 games that first season while losing nine. Since then the Lady Techsters have had eight consecutive winning seasons.

The additions of Leon Barmore and Gary Blair to the coaching staff in recent years continued to strengthen the program. In 1979, the Lady Techsters made their first appearance in the Final Four, and only two years later became the queens of the court.

According to Sports Information Director Keith Prince, one reason for the school's quick rise to the top was scheduling. ''We avoided nobody,'' he said. ''In the last two or three years we have played the best teams in the country.'' Last year Tech played two-time defending champion Old Dominion, Long Beach State , and UCLA on their way to the national title. ''We have played in Maryland, Georgia, Oregon and Hawaii - we've been all over the country,'' Prince adds.

Initially the basketball program started out with a $5,000 budget for everything from uniforms to water bottles. The college was fortunate to be in an area that produces good local talent, for it made recruiting easier. ''The first year we went to nationals (1979),'' says Prince, ''every woman on the squad was from within 100 miles of Louisiana Tech. All came from little towns right around here. Now that the budget has been expanded, we recruit on the national level, but the ties within the surrounding area are still a big factor.'' Two top seniors, Pam Kelly and Angela Turner, are from within 50 miles of the school. Since they came to Tech, the team has gone 34-4, 40-5, 34-0, and 33-1 so far this season.

Louisiana Tech's talent, though, does not stop with Kelly (20 points and over 9 rebounds per game) and Turner (10.8 points and the team leader in steals). Other standouts are steady junior Lori Scott and two sensational sophomores, 6 ft. 3 in. Janice Lawrence and 5-4 Kim Mulkey, both of whom were freshman All-Americans last season.

The Lady Techsters lost to Old Dominion in January 61-58. Before that, they hadn't lost since March 23, 1980, which included a 54-game winning streak - the longest recognized skein in women's college basketball. In spite of the lone loss, they have been ranked No. 1 for 36 consecutive weeks.

''The fan support we have received from the college and community has been great,'' says Prince, who knows Tech is squarely situated in a football hotbed. ''There are 8 to 10 NFL players from around here (including Joe Ferguson and Bert Jones), but nothing has ever grabbed this community as much as this team. You walk into any store and the people will be talking about the Lady Techsters.'' If Louisiana Tech wins the women's national title again, talk may spread fast.

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