RON SCHWANE / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - When it was her turn, Maria Fantanarosa clutched the scissors tightly and walked toward the ladder for a climb she'll never forget.
First as a player, then as coach at Miami, she had always dreamED of one day cutting down the nets as a Mid-American Conference tournament champion.
Yesterday, her moment finally arrived.
"I ... took ... it ... one ... step ... at ... a ... time," Fantanarosa said slowly, still wearing the nylon necklace an hour after the game. "I wanted to enjoy this journey."
Miami, which won just 12 games last season and eight the year before, earned its first NCAA tournament bid as Amanda Jackson and Jenna Schone scored 19 points apiece in a 67-56 win over Ohio in the MAC championship game.
The RedHawks made the most of their first appearance in the MAC title game since 1995. Using an 11-0 run in the second half, they pulled away from the Bobcats, who had knocked off three-time defending champion Bowling Green in the semifinals.
The victory was especially satisfying for Jackson, a senior who had redshirted after sustaining a season-ending knee injury two years ago following an on-court collision with teammate Laura Markwood. Jackson added five rebounds, four assists and was selected tournament MVP.
Perrysburg grad Markwood contributed six points and 11 rebounds yesterday.
"We were hungrier," said Jackson, an all-around talent described as "sometimes too unselfish" by her coach.
While she deflected all the praise to her players, the win was just as sweet for Fantanarosa, a two-time All-MAC selection with the RedHawks who took over her alma mater's sputtering program in 1998 and has led it on a steady rise to the top.
After the final horn, she was lifted into the air by her players.
The Bobcats got to the finals for the first time since 1986 by upsetting powerhouse Bowling Green in two overtimes, a victory that may have sapped some strength from the Bobcats. Laura Hmiel scored 12 points and senior Lauren Kohn, who failed to score in Ohio's win over BG, added 10 - but none in the second half.
ALL-TOURNAMENT: Toledo's Ta'Yani Clark and Bowling Green's Tara Breske were named to the all-tournament team.
The Rockets and Falcons both lost in the semifinals.
Clark, a senior, averaged 17 points and 6.7 rebounds in UT's three tournament games. She was 11-of-18 from 3-point range.
Breske, a sophomore, led BG in scoring and rebounding, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds in two games. For the tournament, she was 13-of-29 from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.32.61436 -86.68074