Monday, March 27, 2000

Title renews NKU's dreams

Officials talk of new arena

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jessica Jenson (left to right), Heather Livingstone, coach Nancy Winstel and Rebecca Bell show off the Division II national trophy.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The score flashed through the evening on ESPN's ticker, followed by the crawler, “N.Kentucky wins Division II championship.” The nation now knew about NKU.

        Northern Kentucky University won a basketball game here Saturday, and also so much more. Respect. Recognition. The right to dream new dreams.

        “It has taken so long to climb the mountain,” Athletic Director Jane Meier said. “By winning, it's a stamp of credibility: "You have arrived.'”

        Suddenly, there's talk of titles in multiple sports. NKU's long-awaited arena plan gets a boost. And discussion of a climb to Division I doesn't feel far-fetched.

        The women's basketball title NKU won Saturday is the first of any kind for the 32-year-old university, but success has been a fixture. The school has had six NCAA Tournament teams the last 13 months — women's basketball (twice), women's tennis, volleyball, women's soccer and men's basketball — and four of those reached the Final Four.

        The women's basketball team will return its top 10 players and be a cinch pick as No.1 next winter, and the soccer and volleyball teams figure to be top-three teams in preseason.

        “I've always said we've got to put these kids in an arena,” said Dr. James Votruba, NKU President. “Our men had a great year and these women are the best in Division II.

        “Our athletic program continues to grow. And if at some future point it makes sense to go Division I, we'll do it.”

        NKU officials make no pretenses: The D-I dream hinges on the arena. Having outgrown 2,000-seat Regents Hall, the school has longed for a large, on-campus venue since the 1980s.

        Besides increasing seating for NKU sports, it could provide a home for multiple events for the Northern Kentucky region — concerts, graduations, and high school or college tournaments. A market study last spring concluded the area is in dire need of such a building; a feasibility study of costs and payment options is underway.

        The projection is for a 6,000- to 7,500-seat complex with an estimated cost of $30 million. Requests for state funding were denied in the 2000 legislative session; they'll be made again in 2002.

        “Hopefully we'll be able to build on this, maybe to gain momentum for the arena,” Meier said. “As for Division I, it's not time to talk about that. You want to be successful where you're at and enjoy the value of what you have. We've always thought once we got (a title), more would come.”

        The intangible benefits of this championship should show up foremost in recruiting. Though it was a nationally televised event, NKU officials still hoped hardest for ratings back home.

        “We've excelled because of the strength of the Greater Cincinnati area,” basketball coach Nancy Winstel said. “We want the local players to realize, "Hey, there's a school right here that's kind of neat. I don't have to go to school eight hours away to play for a winner.'”


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