November 23, 2004

Portland taking time off

STATE COLLEGE - Recording three straight losses to start the season probably would have been more than enough adversity for the Penn State women's basketball team. But yesterday, it was dealt a little more.

The Lady Lions' head coach, Rene Portland, announced yesterday via an athletic department press release that she would be leaving the team for "an indefinite period of time" due to an unspecified medical concern.

"This is one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my career as a head coach," Portland said in the release. "While I want to be with my team at this time, I also realize that I must make my health a priority ... I look forward to returning when my condition permits."

A voice message left on Portland's cell phone yester day was not returned.

In Portland's absence, associate head coach Annie Troyan will assume all head coaching responsibilities as acting head coach, according to the release.

Portland informed Troyan of her decision yesterday morning, according to Erin Whiteside, the Lady Lions' media contact. Portland then revealed her decision to the rest of the team members when she met with them in the afternoon.

Troyan, who is in her 18th year as an assistant at Penn State, was not made available for comment by the athletic department, and could not be reached at her home in State College.

A few players were asked to talk about their coach's decision, but each declined.

Portland's health has been an occasional concern since the beginning of the season. The head coach in her 25th year was hospitalized for two nights after suffering a "fainting spell."

According to the release Portland's leave of absence was "related to her fainting episode last Sunday," though it offered no other specifics concerning her medical status.

Whiteside did not know whether Portland plans to or is currently receiving any medical treatment.

"I'm sure she is resting," Whiteside said. "I didn't really get to talk to her in-depth about it."

Portland experienced the fainting spell on Nov. 14 while traveling on the team's plane, which was returning to the University Park Airport from Austin.

Earlier that day, the Lady Lions lost their season opener to Texas, 84-69.

Team trainers attended to Portland on the plane in addition to using the aircraft's communication system to call ahead, ensuring that a ride would be waiting to take Portland to the hospital when the plane landed around 11 p.m.

"After taking into consideration the events of last week, and after talking extensively with my family, I have made the decision to take a leave of absence from the team," Portland said in the release.

Portland's son Stephen, who is in his first year as the Lady Lions' director of operations, could not be reached at his campus apartment.

Portland was admitted to Mount Nittany Medical Center that night for precautionary and observational reasons. When she left the hospital the following Tuesday, Troyan said she was "in great spirits."

"We're expecting her back fully," Troyan said the day Portland checked out of Mount Nittany.

Though she missed her usual weekly press conference the day the hospital released her, Portland coached Penn State in a 66-58 loss to Duke on Thursday in Durham, N.C.

She was also on the sidelines for a 73-65 upset loss on the road to Villanova on Sunday.

The loss marked the first time the Lady Lions went 0-3 to start the season since 1979, a year before Portland took over the program.

Penn State will play its fourth game of the season at 7 p.m. tomorrow against Duquesne (0-1) in the Bryce Jordan Center in State College. The home opener will be the first game Portland has missed in the 25 years she's been head coach at Penn State.

"I know that [Troyan] will do a tremendous job in leading the Lady Lions while I'm gone," Portland said in the release.

Added Penn State athletic director Tim Curley in the release: "[Portland] has my full support in this extremely difficult decision. Her health should be her No. 1 priority, and the Penn State community will support her as she takes the time she needs for herself."

Portland has the most wins of any coach in Penn State history with 562. She has led the Lady Lions to one Final Four, five Big Ten regular-season titles and two Big Ten Tournament titles.

Suzie McConnell-Serio, the Minnesota Lynx head coach and a former All-American at Penn State, echoed Curley's sentiments, while giving a Troyan another vote of confidence.

"That's unfortunate for Rene," McConnell-Serio told The Associated Press. "[Troyan] has been Rene's right-hand man, or woman I should say, for a long time. I think she'll do a great job."

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