Berenato’s Bunch Breaks Through

Bill Cowher may have been the most intense coach during his time as the leader of the Steelers, but I don’t think there has been a more engaging and vocal coach than Agnus Berenato. The only reason Pittsburgh sports fans may have missed her gift for gab is because she coaches womens basketball.

The sport has long labored in the shadow of the mens game .. and has been relegated to virtual obscurity here in Pittsburgh. However, Agnus arrived from Georgia Tech five years ago with two goals in mind: Make Pitt womens basketball a winner and – much more difficult – make basketball relevant.

Well, she has finally done the former. Berenato guided the Pitt women last night to a place they had never been to before — the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Berenato’s bunch beat Baylor to reach the round of 16 in Albequerque Monday night. Next up, a trip to Spokane to play second-seeded Stanford.

While she has finally won – fulfilling the promise she made when she arrived five years ago – Agnus’ second task may prove to be the more difficult one. Making her sport relevant and mentioned in the same breath as the mens program has always been difficult. Whether its the media – or people walking down the street – womens sports gets a lot of lip service but very little play. At least on the high school level, girls and boys basketball have achieved some sort of parity but the same cannot be said about any other sport at any level.

I’m not sure why fans – both men and women – refuse to embrace the womens game. When I go to games, the fans for the most part are either young children or senior citizens. The fan who spends the big bucks just doesn’t have the same passion for the women and that is a shame because the women are just as passionate, just as talented and – as the recent headlines suggest – less likely to wind up getting a call from the police for engaging in som illicit acitvity.

But for now, womens sports remain “big event” draws: big crowds show up whenever a womens team plays for a national championship ( Pittsburgh Passion Football ) or play for a world title ( the 1999 U.S. womens soccer team ). So it will be with the Pitt women as long as they stay alive on the road to the final four.

Agnus, congratulations on taking Pitt basketball to the next level on the court. Let’s hope this success leads to the program to a new high in terms of relevance off the court,.

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