Last Wednesday night, the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team tallied a record 96th straight win against the Temple University Owls. The Huskies finished the first half up 54 -18 – a lead that proved too large to overcome in spite of a strong second half performance by the Owls, who ultimately lost 97-69.
Beyond the skill exhibited on the court, the night was a notable one for women’s basketball. As reported by the Hartford Courant, February 1st set the record for largest New York-based household audience to watch any UConn women’s basketball game, which have broadcast locally on SNY since 2012. Not only did more New York market households tune in to this game than any previous UConn game on the network, but the household rating also exceeded that of the Knicks-Nets game on YES, the Bruins-Capitals and the Avalanche-Kings games on NBCSN, and seven other college basketball games on ESPN2, ESPNU, and FS1.
As for the audience in the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA, most came to cheer for the Owls in hopes of an upset. Some came to witness their Huskies extend an historic winning streak. And others, including myself, came for the halftime festivities during which Aggie Stegmuller and Lynn Blaszczyk-Petruzzelli, my mother, became the first women inducted into the Temple University Ring of Honor.
Temple Director of Athletics Dr. Patrick Kraft introduced the Ring of Honor in November 2016 to “honor the greats.” Ring of Honor recipients are chosen by a committee of administrators, staff, former players, and other alumni who are friends of the basketball program, based on their achievements while student-athletes and distinctions earned thereafter. The names of Ring of Honor inductees are prominently displayed around the upper level in the Liacouras Center.
On February 1st, 2017, the first women were added to that distinguished list: Aggie Stegmuller (Class of 1945) and Lynn Blaszczyk-Petruzzelli (Class of 1983). Aggie Stegmuller was a four-sport athlete in the 1940s and is a member of the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame. She earned All-America honors in field hockey and softball, led the basketball team on a 27-0 run over three seasons, and won a collegiate championship in badminton. Until her passing in 2010, she was an avid supporter of Temple sports and a leader in supporting the development of female athletes in the greater Philadelphia area.
Lynn Blaszczyk-Petruzzelli was the first woman to attend Temple University on a full scholarship for basketball when she joined the team in 1979. Her dominance in the paint led to two All-Big Five team selections and inductions to both the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame and Big Five Hall of Fame. She was the first woman in Temple basketball history to reach the 1,000-point mark and finished her career with 1,329 points, which remains second best of all time. She is also one of only four Temple University players to average double-digit rebounds over a season, tallying 949 rebounds over her career, which also remains second best of all time. Aside from those stat lines, Lynn led the Owls to their first appearances in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament in her junior and senior seasons.
Among all of the things I admire about my mom, I realized there is one thing that I had not fully appreciated until this Wednesday night, as I stood surrounded by family, friends, and my mother’s former teammates and coaches who had driven hours to be there as her name was unveiled above the court – I have never questioned that great athletes can be female. My mother’s basketball career, which after Temple continued professionally in Germany and then transitioned into coaching, is impressive. Not because she is a great female athlete but because she is a great athlete, full stop. And as record-breaking audiences continue to tune in to watch Kia Nurse and Napheesa Collier and all the other fantastic athletes on UConn’s roster, I hope other young fans make the same association I did.
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