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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Cullop to increase tempo for Rockets

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo officials said they were impressed by Tricia Cullop's ability to increase attendance while coaching at Evansville. Toledo officials said they were impressed by Tricia Cullop's ability to increase attendance while coaching at Evansville.
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Tricia Cullop had a favorable setup in Evansville, Ind. The Purple Aces were coming off their first postseason victory in school history, returning six of eight top scorers next year, and her parents lived 60 miles north.

But when Cullop visited the University of Toledo, the draw of leading the women's basketball program was something she couldn't resist.

"Knowing where this program has been, and knowing its potential to be great again make this an exciting opportunity for me," Cullop said. "I'm at the point in my career where I was ready for a change, a new challenge."

UT announced Cullop as its ninth women's basketball coach yesterday. She agreed in principle to a five-year contract, the terms of which were not disclosed. Former coach Mark Ehlen made $126,250 per year.

The 36-year-old Bicknell, Ind., native arrived in Toledo ready to get to work. Cullop left immediately after the press conference to catch a ride to the Detroit airport and fly to North Carolina to recruit this weekend.

"It's a little late, but there's still plenty of options," Cullop said of filling some of UT's five open scholarships.

In eight years at Evansville, Cullop had a 123-110 record. The last four years she led the Aces to winning seasons, compiling a 73-48 mark over that period.

UT athletic director Mike O'Brien said a quality that attracted them to Cullop besides her coaching record was her track record at raising attendance. Evansville has set new school attendance marks in each of the last six years. The Purple Aces averaged about 600 fans per game when she arrived in 2000 and this past season the average attendance was 1,544.

Don Bickford introduces himself to Tricia Cullop. Bickford and his wife, Peg, have had season tickets for the men's team at Toledo for 50 years and for the women since the team started. Don Bickford introduces himself to Tricia Cullop. Bickford and his wife, Peg, have had season tickets for the men's team at Toledo for 50 years and for the women since the team started.
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"It's the way she develops a program," O'Brien said of Cullop's appeal. "The last four years were nothing but heading in the right direction. The coaches who I talked to said she is special. She clearly rose to the top."

The 6-foot-2 Cullop played on three NCAA tournament teams at Purdue from 1989-93. Her first college coaching stop was as an assistant at Radford, where she helped the team to two NCAA berths. Evansville won 10 straight conference games this year en route to a 21-12 record, the second-most wins in school history.

"She's proven that she can be successful as a head coach," UT senior women's administrator Kelly Andrews said. "They've had some great years at Evansville and I think she's coming in here with a right understanding of all the things Toledo has to offer."

Cullop came to Savage Hall once in the 1990s while an assistant at Xavier and the arena's atmosphere made an impression on her.

"The thing that I remember most is the fan support," Cullop said. "There is incredibly loyal fan support here and I can't wait to entice some of those people to come back and be a part of it."

Before the press conference yesterday Cullop met with UT's returning players for about an hour. She told them about herself and also mentioned a little about the style she likes to play: "pressure man-to-man defense, we love to push the ball in transition. We average quite a few points a game. I'm not a big fan of walking the ball up and down the floor."

A few weeks ago the players had sent sophomore Allie Clifton to O'Brien's office to relay the message, "hire someone that's going to work them to get them to the top," O'Brien said. Cullop's initial talk fired the Rockets up.

"We have a lot of athletic post players, we can press," sophomore forward Lisa Johnson said. "She wants to use our strengths to help make this program better."

Cullop said she hasn't decided yet on an assistant coaching staff.

"I'm going to be exploring all options," Cullop said. "That's the most important thing that I do as a head coach is to hire staff that can inspire these players, instruct these players and continue to build this program. I'm going to take my time with that while also working diligently to get it done."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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