I can’t remember the last time I was THAT nervous to tip a basketball game. I’ve done play-by-play for countless college games on both TV and radio, perched courtside for conference championships and NCAA tournament battles, called the action inside some of the most celebrated venues in the country. But as the start of the 2015 Big East Women’s Championship drew closer, it felt like the first time. There was absolutely nothing I could do about the knots in my stomach no matter how many texts I got from loved ones or how many pep talks I gave myself. It didn’t matter that I was as prepared as I could possibly be. The nerves weren’t going away until I was sure I could handle the stage: my first ever play-by-play assignment for the Westwood One Radio Network. An opportunity more than 15 years in the making. In the last decade, the only other time I was comparably nervous was the night we found out Navy SEALS had finally hunted down Osama Bin Laden. I was literally shaking in my ESPN Radio studio every time I turned on the microphone to tell the audience the mastermind behind 9/11 was confirmed dead. That was history, a significant event that affected our entire nation, and I was honored to convey the news to so many. The magnitude of that occasion could not be understated, and I wanted to offer as many details as I could with the perfect amount of respect. When people ask me about the biggest moments of my career, I always go back to that Sunday night. On the surface, it’s almost laughable I would feel similar emotions over a college basketball game, but there was no downplaying the importance of that opening tip in Chicago.
My first play-by-play memories are from my bedroom in the Concord, New Hampshire, house where I grew up. I would listen to my beloved Boston Celtics on the radio while doing my homework because we didn’t have cable TV out in the woods. I would also sneak a little radio under the covers to listen to the Denver Broncos when they played on Monday Night Football. I was supposed to be sleeping, but I couldn’t turn off the action until I knew if John Elway led my favorite football team to another win. Not only did I grow into a huge sports fan, but I also fell in love with radio play-by-play. I was fascinated with the idea that I could describe the action on the court or field in such a way that listeners didn’t feel like they were missing anything, even though they couldn’t see it with their own eyes. I began telling family and friends (as a teenager) that I wanted to be the first female Johnny Most, the first woman to serve as the radio voice of the Celtics, and I’ve been churning toward that goal ever since.
As a grad student at Syracuse, I sat in the stands at women’s games and did play-by-play into a handheld recorder until the manager at the campus radio station finally let me do a game for real. What a thrill! A few years later, I shared play-by-play duties for the Lebanon High School boys’ basketball team in upstate New Hampshire. The team battled into the state championship game, and the Boston Globe sent a reporter to Lundholm Gymnasium at UNH to do a story on the only female in the state doing play-by-play. When the spread came out, my family bought a dozen copies, and Mom laminated the article and photos for me. I still have it packed away somewhere. I used to send a copy of the story along with my resume and tape when I applied for jobs. The next stop in my journey was a town near the Oklahoma panhandle with more cows than people. Woodward was culture shock for me, but I served as News & Sports Director for a radio station with a 100,000 watt signal. I called games year-round: high school football and basketball and American Legion baseball. Then it was onto Oklahoma City where I dabbled in softball play-by-play for the University of Oklahoma at the Women’s College World Series. My first college action, and I had very little idea what I was doing, ha! I’m grateful for the experience and the chance to stretch myself; but at that point, I decided basketball was my niche. The next few years carried me back to New England where I did games on TV and radio for the University of Rhode Island as well as the Big East. I’ll never forget being courtside in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse, the same arena where I screamed and yelled for the Orangemen as a student and the same campus where I sat in the stands with my handheld recorder. Full circle.
My big break came in 2008 when the University of Hartford hired me to travel with the women’s basketball team as the voice of the Hawks. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti put that program on the fast track, and I was privileged to be along for the ride. An upset of #5 Duke in Chicago; trips to UConn, Ohio State, Louisville, and Notre Dame; holiday events in Cancun and Florida; buzzer-beaters and battles for conference supremacy; America East title tilts; 20 straight wins; and a trio of NCAA tournament games. My 6 seasons with Hartford catapulted me into the fire and prepared me to navigate every possible play-by-play challenge. And yet there I was, moments away from the opening tip at the Big East Women’s Championship on Westwood One, as nervous as a rookie. It was the culmination of a lengthy journey, my first network radio play-by-play, my first chance to prove that I belong courtside with the best. It took about five minutes of game action before I settled down. It’s a good thing I had the players’ names memorized because I couldn’t see a thing on the charts in front of me. Once I got into the flow of the game, I was in my element as always. But the magnitude of that moment was not lost on me. I’m so grateful for all the family and friends who listened across the country and bombarded me with texts of support and encouragement. They knew how much it mattered to me, too.
In a few days, I get to experience another “first.” I’m thrilled to be part of Westwood One’s coverage of the women’s NCAA regional final in Oklahoma City Sunday night. The winner heads to the Final Four. Without a doubt, the single biggest moment of my play-by-play journey. More than 20 years after I did my homework next to the radio while Larry Bird buried jump shots, this broadcast is another dream realized. And instead of feeling the nerves, I absolutely can’t wait! Bring on the Madness.