In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily launches a series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Former managing sports editor Betelhem Ashame kicks off the series with this column.
This month is almost universally known for March Madness, the single best sporting event of the year.
In the past weekend of the NCAA Tournament, there was the historic 20-point upset of No. 1 overall seed Virginia at the hands of No. 16 seed UMBC — the only time the lowest seed has beaten the top seed in the men’s tournament.
There was No. 13 seed Buffalo putting together a 20-point win of its own over No. 4 seed Arizona to secure the first tournament victory in program history. There was No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago advancing to the Sweet Sixteen on the back of not one, but two game-winning shots against No. 6 seed Miami and No. 3 seed Tennessee, respectively.
And of course, there was the shot that wrote Jordan Poole’s name in Michigan lore, as the freshman guard — with his legs stretched wide apart and a hand directly in his face — made an improbable, miracle shot to beat the buzzer and punch the third-seeded Wolverines’ ticket to Los Angeles for the Sweet Sixteen.
But you already know all that. I’d bet my bracket money on it.
There’s probably a lot about this weekend you know nothing about, though. For instance, there’s more than one NCAA Tournament in March.
And this isn’t the first time a No. 16 seed topped a No. 1 seed. Harvard upset Stanford in the women’s tournament 20 years ago.
That fact might catch you by surprise. It certainly did for me when I saw it on Twitter, in relation to UMBC’s feat. I’m just as old as that game, and I had never heard of it.
There have been notable upsets in this year’s women’s tournament, too. You just probably didn’t know about them.
There was No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast stunning No. 5 seed Missouri with a double-digit victory — despite the Tigers’ best player dropping 35 points — becoming the lowest seed to advance to the second round in the 64-team field.
There was No. 11 seed Central Michigan securing a win over No. 6 LSU for the first tournament victory in program history as the first 11-seed to win since 2015. Mere hours later, there was No. 11 seed Buffalo pulling off a 20-point upset as well by beating No. 6 seed South Florida to also earn its first tournament victory in program history.
And Michigan, which made the tournament for the first time since 2013, advanced out of the first round with a double-digit win over Northern Colorado, but expectedly couldn’t pull off an upset of its own against No. 2 Baylor in Waco, TX.
Even as a female former managing sports editor of this paper, I admittedly didn’t know much about the women’s tournament this year, either. Besides that Michigan part, I had to do some searching to find out what I just told you.
While the men’s tournament has been broadcast all over CBS, TNT and TBS, the women’s tournament has been relegated to ESPN2 — the secondary channel of the network branded as the worldwide leader in sports. That isn’t a new phenomenon for women’s sports.
Even on the professional level, for example, the WNBA constantly finds itself stuck on ESPN2, while the NBA spreads its games between ABC, TNT and ESPN. With a lower volume of coverage, it isn’t hard to see why women’s sports struggle to come out from behind the shadows.
There’s more you should know about this weekend as a Michigan fan.
The swimming and diving team finished in fourth place at the NCAA Championships and secured a team trophy — earning 267 points, the third-highest total in program history — for the first time since 1996. Nine swimmers, one diver and four relays scored points, including three national runner-up finishes, to help the Wolverines become the first Big Ten team to earn a top-five finish since that same year.
The gymnastics team captured its fourth Big Ten regular-season title in the past six years with its 15th win of the season at the Big Five Meet. Michigan now has an opportunity to claim its fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship next weekend as well.
The water polo team ran its win streak to 15 games with three more victories over ranked opponents to finish off its non-conference slate — the sixth time in program history the Wolverines have achieved that many consecutive victories.
The softball team did one better and extended its win streak to 16 games with four victories by a combined margin of 35-0, including an exclamation mark courtesy of freshman right-hander Sarah Schaefer, who tossed the first perfect game of her Michigan career.
Those are just five of the 14 female teams that don the maize and blue. I could go on, but I’ll stop there.
A few synopses don’t do justice to these teams. Their stories are just as layered and their accomplishments are just as important as those of the men’s teams that have been in the spotlight all this time. They just haven’t received the same level of attention.
There’s one more thing you should know about, if you didn’t already. March is also Women’s History Month. It’s an opportune time to put a spotlight on these women.
It’s our responsibility to write about them. It’s your responsibility to read about them.
Women’s sports have been undervalued in society for a long time, even after Title IX. If you didn’t already, hopefully now you know.
So over the course of the next two weeks, in accordance with Women’s History Month, my fellow female sports writers and I will be putting a spotlight on their stories.
They deserve to be told. We are here to do the telling.
Ashame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @betelhem_ashame.