UC Women's Basketball Coach Has a Winning Focus
Date: Feb. 18, 2002
By Eric Lose
Photos by Carrie Cochran
Contact: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
She's got eyes like a shark: dark, piercing, intense, always moving.
Whether it is during games or practice, Laurie Pirtle, coach of the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team, sees everything that happens on the court. When coaching, it seems her eyes are vacantly focused and staring straight ahead, but in a few minutes, it's evident that her vision is all encompassing. Pirtle's eyes may be aimed center-court, but her constant coaching comments to the players proves that she sees everything that happens in front of her, to the far left, far right, and maybe even in back.
There are no cheering fans, buzzers or whistles during practice. No banter from the players (they are all business), just the squeak of rubber soles on highly varnished hardwood and the low thundering of twenty pairs of feet stampeding down-court. The dominant sound during practice is Pirtle's voice: not soft, not yelling, just well projected, cutting through the background noise. Her vocal range goes from complimentary to commanding. "You got it right. Now let's get it GOOD."
Pirtle has been coaching basketball for 21 years, the last 16 at UC. She started her coaching career at William Fisher Catholic High School in Columbus, then moved on to Capital University, a small Division III school in Columbus. When Bearcat fans talk about her record, they brag that she recently passed the 300 mark in career victories. Pirtle credits the accomplishment to "being alive, longevity, luck, and about 20 people who helped me get each one."
The first weekend in February, the Bearcats played Tulane in New Orleans on Friday, and Southern Miss on Sunday. Not too long ago that would have meant 2,000-plus miles of round-the-clock driving. But Pirtle said there have been a lot of improvements in women's basketball during her coaching career. "We went from vans to busses, and driving 27 hours straight changed to flying. Probably the biggest improvement has been in recruiting. Now coaches on overnight recruiting trips get to stay in hotels. It used to mean sleeping in the van at a rest stop."
After Wednesday's practice, Pirtle gathers the team for some last-minute advice and encouragement, then reminds them they must be ready to leave Thursday at 5 a.m. for the next road trip. She tells them not to worry about losing sleep. They'll get plenty of rest on the bus and plane. "You should be more worried about ME getting up that early than you," she joked.
With Pirtle as coach, UC has compiled an outstanding record: More than 220 total victories; winning seasons the last six consecutive years; 20-plus victories in 1998, 1999, and 2001; and four straight postseason appearances.
More important than victories is how Pirtle feels about her players. "I want to them to learn to give their best," said Pirtle, "and take that into class and beyond." The team is scheduled to play 27 regular games, and then comes an additional one to ten appearances in the postseason tournament. "That's four to five months," said Pirtle. "We're talking for-e-v-e-r." Players generally put in 20 to 30 hours a week during the season. Off-season is less demanding, with players committing only eight hours a week. "We do team-building activities and work on individual skills and strength training. It's a less demanding time of the year."
Pirtle said her musical tastes lean toward techno-pop, "I like to listen to the high-energy stuff when I drive." Her preference in films is a little more traditional, but mirrors her coaching goals. "My favorite movie of all time was "Wizard of Oz." It was about individuals who had different goals and achieved them by working as a team."
The Bearcats seem to be on their way to another tournament this year. If need be, Pirtle will drive overnight to get them there... and more than likely there'll be techno-pop blasting out of the speakers.
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