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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #7: Rebecca Lobo

When I was a kid, there were women in sports. There have always been women in sports. I knew about Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, Katarina Witt and Nancy Lopez, Mary Lou Retton and Flo-Jo. But these were tennis players and golfers, gymnasts and sprinters, individual competitors in fields of endeavor that didn’t really move me. In my teenage years in the 1990s, a Sports Illustrated feature on women was still far more likely to feature tan lines than stat lines.

I can clearly recall the first female athlete I actively rooted for, playing a team sport here in our neighborhood. The UConn men’s basketball team was a budding national powerhouse in the early 1990s with players like Ray Allen. But here’s the thing - the women’s program was better. Beginning with a Final Four appearance in 1991, these Huskies have been in the elite eight virtually every year since. But it was the 1994-95 team that won the first national championship, four years before their male counterparts, going 35-0 in the process.

Remember, this was in the lean years of the 1990s for New England sports. The last title for the region had been Bird’s Celtics back in 1986, and Tom Brady was just a high school senior in California. We were hungry for a winner, and boy did these women win. The roster was loaded with talent like Nykesha Sales and Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters and Jamelle Elliott, future Olympians and WNBA champs and college coaches. But the charismatic face of the team was one of our own.

Rebecca Lobo was a New Englander. She played her high school ball in Southwick, Massachusetts, where she set a state scoring record that would stand for 18 years. Though more than a hundred colleges recruited Lobo, she stayed close to home in Storrs, where she helped ignite the Huskies dynasty. She not only led the undefeated 1995 champs, she won just about every award a college basketball player can win. She’d go on to play for the USA women’s basketball team at the 1996 Olympics, winning a gold medal, and become one of the inaugural members of the WNBA with the New York Liberty. After her playing career was curt short by injuries, Lobo became a reporter and analyst for ESPN.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact Lobo had on young women in the region as a high-profile female athlete in a team sport. It was never about her sexuality or her looks; there was only the game with Rebecca Lobo, only the wins and the hardware. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Lobo had on young men, too. I was 19 when her UConn team finished that dominant undefeated season, and I can remember watching women’s college basketball with rapt attention.

Rebecca Lobo was a pioneer, a champion, and deserving of her place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. She’s also deserving of her spot on any list of important New England athletes. Including this one.

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