Cheyney women made NCAA ‘herstory’

Fred Jeter | 4/11/2024, 6 p.m.
Cheyney (Pa.) State University is far removed from the brightest stage of women’s college basketball now, but that was far ...
In 1982, HBCU Cheyney reached the NCAA finals ... never has anything like that happened since.

Cheyney (Pa.) State University is far removed from the brightest stage of women’s college basketball now, but that was far from the case in 1982.

In the inaugural season of the women’s NCAA tournament, Cheyney’s Lady Wolves shocked the world by advancing to the finals, at Norfolk Scope, before losing to Louisiana Tech, 76-62.

Remembering the HBCU champs in Division II

While there has never been an NCAA Division I women’s champion from an HBCU, there have been three in Division II.

Virginia Union won in 1983 (then called the Pantherettes under Coach Lou Hearn); Hampton took home the trophy in 1988; and Shaw in 2012.

Louisiana Tech featured a pig-tailed guard named Kim Mulkey (now LSU coach), but that’s a story for another day.

In an ESPN Sports Center feature in 2022, called “The Lone Wolves,” former Cheyney star Valerie Walker said this: “We realized we were the first to get there and it was very important to us. We got there. We did great and created history.”

Finishing 28-3, Cheyney (located 30 miles west of Philadelphia) defeated Auburn and host North Carolina in the East Region in Raleigh and then downed Maryland in the semifinals in Norfolk. The event was hosted by Old Dominion.

Under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, the Wolves were the Cinderella of all Cinderellas, playing a mostly Division II schedule as a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

Facing a mix ‘n’ match schedule of Division I and IIs, the Wolves posted take-notice wins over Maryland, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Villanova. In the PSAC tournament, Cheyney routed Millersville 114-37 and Slippery Rock 92-33.

That was good enough for the NCAA Division I selection committee to invite the Wolves as an independent.

It wasn’t over. The next season, in 1983, Cheyney reached the Sweet 16.

Stringer went on to guide both Iowa and Rutgers to Final Fours and finished with 1,055 victories (including 251-51 at Cheyney.)

Historically, HBCUs haven’t fared so well. The SWAC and MEAC champs receive automatic NCAA berths but almost always are quickly eliminated.

There’s even worse news for Cheyney. Due to finances and the after-effects of COVID, the school has discontinued its women’s basketball program.