January 15, 2005

College, budding basketball career keeps Cowher's daughter from Steelers game

PRINCETON, N.J. -- When the Steelers take the field Saturday in Pittsburgh, Meagan Cowher will be back in New Jersey preparing for some athletic successes all her own.

The 18-year-old freshman -- the eldest daughter of Steelers coach Bill Cowher -- has become a standout athlete in her first season on the women's basketball team at Princeton University, winning the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award four times in seven weeks.

The 6-foot-1 freshman guard-forward has been the Tigers' leading scorer, adding 28 points and nine rebounds in their victory against St. Peter's earlier this month. This Saturday, though, she'll be focused on preparing for final exams instead of sports.

``It's been such a pleasant surprise for me that I'd be able to step in and make an impact,'' Cowher said after an evening practice Friday.

Head coach Richard Barron describes Cowher as agile, graceful and athletic, not to mention focused.

``She's got a real sense of maturity and composure that goes well beyond just basketball, but that's why I think she's been able to have such success as a freshman,'' Barron said. ``Part of it's her talent, part of it is who she is.''

Cowher comes from an athletic family. Besides her father's accomplishments, both her mother and an aunt played basketball in college and went on to play professionally. Her two younger sisters also are basketball players.

Cowher's famous father has brought a fair share of attention to the young player, but Barron said she takes it all in stride.

``She's been Meagan Cowher all her life so I don't think it's anything new to her,'' he said. ``All of the sudden there's a resurgence of it because she's in a new environment.

``I think for the most part it's something she's extremely comfortable with,'' Barron said. ``She has a real sense that being Bill Cowher's daughter is not in itself an accomplishment. She's realistic about it. She appreciates the attention, understands why people would be interested in that and she's very, very proud of her father.''

Cowher said her father is already making plans to catch her games in person after his season is done. And while she's seen two Steelers game this season -- one over the Christmas break and one during the fall break -- she hopes to see one more.

``If we get to the Super Bowl -- fingers crossed -- I'll be there,'' she said.

Olympics influenced Stringer and helped Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Watching Van Chancellor coach the U. S. women's basketball team to a gold medal in the Summer Olympics had a profound effect on Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Not only has Chancellor's laid-back approach helped Stringer deal with her team, some of the plays used by Olympians Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi and Dawn Staley have benefited No. 4 Rutgers during its seven-game winning streak.

``I was talking to Van last night, telling him the kinds of things that have helped me,'' Stringer said Friday. ``Maybe I have overcoached. I have been so thorough with everything.''

Such thoroughness has resulted in 707 career wins. Texas' Jody Conradt, former LSU coach Sue Gunter and Tennessee's Pat Summitt are the only other coaches in women's college basketball to amass 700 or more career wins.

But as an assistant in Athens, Stringer was impressed with how he handled the best players in women's basketball. In addition to coaching the Olympians to a gold medal, Chancellor has guided the Houston Comets to four WNBA titles.

``He gave them the freedom and the choices,'' Stringer said in a conference call prior to Sunday's game between Rutgers (12-2) and No. 5 Ohio State (16-2).

Stringer said the U.S. women's team had a lot of talent and pride, and she feels the same way about her team. Rutgers moved up 20 places in the poll in the last few weeks following consecutive upsets of then-No. 8 Tennessee, No. 4Texas and No. 1 LSU.

``I have decided to let them be a little more responsible,'' Stringer said.

Now Stringer is giving her players options in running the offense, much like the U.S. women's team had in Greece.

In the past, if Rutgers made a pass to the post from the wing, a player was assigned to make a specific cut off that pass. The Scarlet Knights now have options on the cuts, provided that they continue to look for the ball.

``It doesn't make them have to think so much, as much as take advantage of the talent,'' Stringer said. ``We have been a lot more free in our offensive executions.''

After upsetting top-ranked LSU, Rutgers avoided a letdown with wins over St. John's, Pittsburgh and Georgetown, three of the midlevel schools in the Big East. The Scarlett Knights beat those teams by an average of 26 points.

The Ohio State game will start another tough run for Rutgers, which has its deepest team in years with seniors Cappie Pondexter, Nikki Jett and Chelsea Newton, junior Michelle Campbell and freshmen Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson.

Rutgers faces Providence at home on Thursday and then plays at No. 7 Notre Dame on Jan. 23 and at No. 14 Boston College on Jan. 26.

``I'm interested to see how we do,'' said Stringer, noting Rutgers will be ranked higher than the other ranked teams for the first time this season.

Ohio State, which has not lost at home this season, beat No. 21 Iowa 80-57 on Thursday, the same night Rutgers beat Georgetown 69-33.

The Buckeyes are led by sophomore center Jessica Davenport, who is averaging 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. Redshirt senior guard Caity Matter is averaging 14.9 points.

Campbell leads Rutgers with 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. Ajavon is averaging 13.3 points.

Rutgers beat Ohio State 56-53 last year in Piscataway.

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