Sunday, May 24, 2009

1997 Charlotte Sting

Vicky Bullett of the Sting vs. Heidi Burge of the Sparks on July 21, 1997. The Sting won 75-64.

W/L: 15-13, third in the Eastern Conference
Pythagorean W/L: 16-12
Points Scored Per Game: 67.3
Points Allowed Per Game: 66.0


PG: Nicole Levesque
SG: Andrea Stinson
SF: Andrea Congreaves/Penny Moore
PF: Vicky Bullett (*)
C: Rhonda Mapp (*)

(*) - both were F/C type players

Last of the 1997 Sting to leave: Andrea Stinson would play with the Sting until the end of the 2004 season.

Last survivor: Stinson, who played her final season in 2005 for the Detroit Shock.

It might have been a very different story if Van Chancellor had been hired for the head coaching job at Charlotte. Instead, Chancellor would go to Houston and Charlotte would hire Marynell Meadors as their head coach. Meadors would look to the ACC for coaches, picking up Sue Panek as one of her assistants (Panek and Meadors would reunite when Meadors became head coach of the Atlanta Dream in 2008.)

She also made it clear that she was looking for a point guard that had "speed, quickness, and scoring ability", according to a April 27, 1997 article from the Charlotte Observer. Her starting point guard would be Tora Suber, a young tattoo-sporting point guard when tattoos were still a novelty instead of de rigeur among WNBA players. Meadors knew Tora Suber when she was coaching at Florida State and Suber was playing for Virginia, and made Suber her first round draft pick and seventh pick overall.

The Charlotte Sting started the season ugly. They struggled in their season opening loss to the Mercury in Phoenix, 76-59 and lost 74-54 on the road to the Sparks in their second game - in each of those losses the Sting shot 33.3 percent...or less. The Sting would start 0-3 before finally winning their home debut 67-44.

Despite their 0-3 start, the Sting managed to hang in there and were 6-6 after their first twelve games. The Sting were schizophrenic - they had won their six games all at home and lost all of their away games. Their home win streak would come to an end when the then 12-3 Liberty came to Charlotte on July 23rd to win 65-63 on a pair of free throws by Rebecca Lobo with 4.6 seconds left. Defensively, the Sting were okay but offensively, they needed punch, at least in those early losses.

One of the unexpected bonuses for the Sting that year was when they signed Nicole Levesque as a replacement point guard. Levesque had joined the Sting one game into the season. She had not only played in training camp, but had been yanked out of her job at a resort in Vermont. Suber struggled with injuries - a sore back, a broken nose - and fell out of the starting lineup. Clearly, Suber wasn't ready to run the Sting offense - but Levesque was.

Charlotte's main adversary seemed to be fatigue rather than their Eastern Conference opponents. The Sting hovered around .500 for the back half of their season, with some ugly losses, including a 81-49 loss to Cleveland in August 17th the day after they beat Houston at home on August 16th. With the Cleveland Rockers right behind them, the question was whether or not Charlotte could squeeze its way into a playoff spot. On August 20th, the Sting traveled to Houston and lost 77-69, dropping them into a tie with Cleveland at 13-12 with just three games to go.

However, one of those games was against the Utah Starzz, the worst team in the WNBA - and it would be played at home, where the Sting were very successful. With their record at 14-13, the Sting learned that the Cleveland Rockers had lost in overtime to New York just minutes before tipoff - if they defeated the Starzz, they were in the playoffs. The Sting started with a 20-4 run to sink the Starzz 70-52

This earned the Sting a seed in the playoffs, where they would face the Houston Comets in Houston. Andrea Congreaves said that the pressure to win would be on Houston, and not Charlotte. Charlotte led the game at halftime by four points but Houston's Wanda Guyton suffered a concussion during the second half, and the injury timeout broke Charlotte's magical spell. They had won the 12 previous times they had led in halftime, but they fell apart in the final eight minutes of the game. The Comets were down 46-44 after being down by four at the half, but turned the deficit into a 56-48 lead with 6:33 to go. Cooper would score 10 of the next 12 Houston points to finish wtih 31 points overall despite the Comets shooting 37.7 percent in the game.

And the last team that had stolen a halftime lead from the Sting before the Sting started up its win-after-leading-at-halftime streak? It was the Houston Comets. They had beaten the Sting three out of four times in the regular season, and Charlotte finished the year with a 1-4 record against Houston.

Andrea Stinson would receive an odd consolation prize. She would finish second to Cynthia Cooper in Most Valuable Player voting - despite not even being elected to the league's All-Star team. As for Tora Suber, she would never be a reguar starter again and be known more for the anti-tattooing backlash than for her accomplishments as a player.

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