Firing Up the Rockets!

Finding success on and off the court
by Mary Helen Darah

Coach Cullop vs. Purdue

University of Toledo Women’s Basketball Head Coach Tricia Cullop has hung five post-season banners with her team since taking the helm for the Lady Rockets in April of 2008. The four-year letter winner for the Purdue University Boilermakers received her bachelor’s degree in communications and was on the team that brought Purdue its first-ever Big Ten Championship. She continually strives to improve and bring her “A” game on and off the court and expects nothing less from her players.

Get into the game at any age
Coach Cullop has successfully engaged her team and their fan base by effectively bridging the generation gap. “I think it’s not an easy task,” she stated. “I keep getting younger and younger players every year. It is important that we have a staff of varying ages and backgrounds. I have known Vicki Hall, women’s basketball associate coach, the longest. We are both from Indiana. She played pro until she was 40 years old. It is hard to find someone more determined. She is a great resource for our kids, especially after their college play is done. She also speaks more than one language and is not afraid to jump on a plane and go where she is needed. Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Tony Greene is a great teacher and brings a lot of energy. Tiffany Swoffard, women’s basketball assistant coach, is from the south, younger than I am and brings a different perspective. Tiffany is also a great teacher and came heralded as one of our top recruiters and helped sign a kid from Atlanta for next year’s class. I coached Director of Operations Katie Griggs at Xavier. An injury prevented her from going on with her basketball career. She is a tremendous asset.”

I am thankful for Lauren Flaum, coordinator of Women’s Basketball and video coordinator, who is a young member of our staff. Between Lauren and her mother, Lynn Nusbaum, they know everyone in town. They are great people. We were trying to find Jewish resources for our player, Naama Shafir, from Israel and stumbled upon Lynn. I am so thankful. Without her, I don’t know if it would have worked. I believe having a staff consisting of different backgrounds and cultures enables them to relate to a diverse team.”

Fantastic fans
Similar to her multi-generational staff, the Lady Rockets fan base has a wide range of ages from young children to retirees. “We have many loyal fans that support us,” stated Coach Cullop. “We sit 25th in the country in fan base and top 30 in the country. Our fans and fan club get to know our players. We have players from locations beyond a three to four hour radius. Having fans greet them after games when their family can’t be here, lasts a lot longer than a college career. We have 200 members in our fan club. We are averaging 4,000 fans a game. That is ahead of University of Michigan and Stanford.”

Diversity on the court
The Lady Rockets come from diverse backgrounds including many international players. “We have players from Finland, England and Italy. We didn’t plan this by design,” explained Coach Cullop. “We always chase players within a six-hour radius. Yet we owe it to our fans to go after the best possible players and players that could help win the conference. When you feel like you find a player that will help us, we will go where we need to go.”

‘The times they are a changin’
Coach Cullop believes coaching has changed from when she was a player. “The approach has changed. Coaches were tougher,” recalled Cullop. “There were no time requirements. I remember losing a game and putting our practice clothes back on and practicing until midnight. We want our players to be treated the way they should be treated. There are a lot of things in place for their protection. I have been places where the kids had to be at practice at 5 a.m. Our players need to rest, to study and reduce wear and tear on their bodies.”

One thing that remains constant through time, is Coach Cullop’s desire to have her players believe in themselves. “I believe participating on our team helps players believe they can accomplish their goals. We are trying to challenge them in both realms. We want them to succeed on and off the court. Our team GPA has been 3.3. One year we were ranked in the top 25. I hope being on the team will help them in whatever field they choose. Players have had the valuable experience of diving into working and communicating with people from various backgrounds. There are so many opportunities at their fingertips. I think years later, players will know how to be grateful for the opportunities around them.”

We can do better
One of the biggest challenges of being a coach is redirecting players after a loss. “I tell my players ‘It is never as bad as it seems and never as good as it seems,” stated Coach Cullop. “We just won against Akron but we are going to watch a lot of film of what we can do better. We watch the good film and the bad. I don’t sleep as well after a loss. My job is to get them refocused. We don’t want to take baggage to the next game. Our focus is to look forward, stay humble and continually be better.”

Forward thinking
Next year two players will graduate, but four starters will return to play for the Lady Rockets. “I think the exciting thing about that is only one of them will be a senior,” stated Coach Cullop. “I think I have some younger kids that will vie for that starting spot. What is also exciting is that we have 17 wins (at press time) with a young team. To have a lot of that team return for the future is very exciting.”

Coach Cullop is also confident that her team will continue to strive for success beyond the court. “I think we selected talented basketball players that also happen to be great people.”

Coach Tricia Cullop is surrounded by her players who strive to successfully balance academics and basketball.