Between planes connecting FIU's women's basketball team from San Antonio to El Paso isn't an ideal time for serious reflection. That's where I caught Cindy Russo Thursday afternoon after her 700th career coaching victory, she and her team were in Houston with UTEP in the future (Saturday) and the milestone win against Texas-San Antonio in the past (Wednesday).
"It's an honor to reach it," Russo said. "It took a lot of time and a lot of good people."
As for the most memorable of those 700 wins, Russo pointed to the 81-76 1995 first round NCAA win against she and longtime assistant Inge Nissen's alma mater, Old Dominion. Despite that connection, I got the feeling the top placement owes more to the game being the first of FIU's two NCAA tournament wins.
"And, of course, it's always nice to beat UM," she laughed.
Russo couldn't remember win No. 1.
"It' was too long time ago," she laughed.
It was 42-41 against Brevard Community College, Jan. 7, 1978. Russo recalls FIU's campus encompassed seven buildings. The team played at Miami Christian High School. They practiced in a former airplane hangar they called "The Tin Gym" now used for storage.
"That first year was memorable," Russo said. "I had a lot of volleyball palyers playing after their season and a lot of softball players playing before their season. But they were a gutty group and coachable."
In the Florida AIAW tournament, FIU won two, then lost two, finishing second to Bethune-Cookman. An eligibility issue, however, knocked Cookman out of the AIAW tournament and sent FIU to the Southeast Regional at the College of Charleston. The Sunblazers (gosh, how much cooler a name is that?) lost to Tampa to end their season 8-14.
Appropriate that the building of wins from eight to 700 by the longest serving FIU coach in any sport in some ways parallels the building of FIU's current campus.
Speaking of construction, the new softball facility debuts today at 4 p.m. when FIU plays Maryland in the Felsberg Memorial. Tomorrow night is the major fund-raiser for the softball and baseball programs, the Diamond Dinner in the Graham Center Ballroom at Camp Mitch. Reception is at 6 p.m with the dinner starting at 7 p.m.
Former major league pitcher Jim Kaat will be the keynote speaker.