Miami coach Katie Meier draws strength from players and mother in Elite Eight race

GREENVILLE, SC — In the moments after Miami beat Villanova to advance to the Elite Eight at the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament on Friday, Hurricanes coach Katie Meier crossed the field and walked behind the line of press, looking into the stands. “Where is Mom?” she asked.

Phyllis Skolak made her way to the front row and shared an emotional hug with her daughter. In a playing and coaching career that spanned five decades, Meier had never reached this stage in an NCAA tournament. The only person who supported her all those years was her mother, who picked up the pieces after a terrible tragedy and helped Meier become who she is today.

There are tears as they hug. Of course, there are tears. Meier never knew his biological father, who died in a plane crash before he was born. Phyllis was 27 at the time, pregnant with Meier, raising three children under the age of 4. Still, she found a way through and, in time, married Howie Skolak. Their blended family had eight children and a home filled with love and sport.

Now 82, Phyllis Skolak had to be there to watch her daughter, who is about to make history for the University of Miami. “It’s hard to find the words,” Phyllis said afterwards. “Kate has worked so hard. She deserves all of this. It’s so special. It’s just remarkable. I’m nothing but proud.”

What made Meier really emotional on Friday was not having Howie Skolak there. At 93, he couldn’t make the trip and watched from his home in Illinois. Meier texted him before the game.

“I said, ‘Dad, I love you. I can’t believe you’re not here, but thanks for letting mom come,'” Meier told on Friday night, her eyes full of tears in a moment of calm after the 70 win. -65. “He’s a pretty special guy, and the two of them in the 1970s decided to merge and become a family after a tragedy. We just have a lot of strength. That’s who I am.”

That’s been on full display this season, one that began with Meier serving a three-game suspension in November as part of an NCAA investigation into inadmissible contact between a booster and two players Miami ended up signing.

In February, the NCAA announced the outcome of that investigation, placing Miami on probation after finding that women’s basketball coaches had inadvertently arranged contact between former Miami twins John Ruiz and Haley and Hanna Cavinder. who were traded to the Fresno State Hurricanes.

Meier — whose 9-seeded Hurricanes are the highest seed remaining in the women’s division and faces No. 3 seed LSU on Sunday — would not discuss the NCAA matter, nor didn’t want to make his run to the Elite Eight about his. “It’s not about me,” she insisted. “I never want it to be about me. I love this team. They worked, they were faithful, they were loyal.”

But those cheering her on in the stands, tears streaming down their faces after the win, believe the victory means a lot to her – and the work she has done to lead Miami to its first Elite Eight in history. Almost all of Meier’s siblings came to Greenville. His wife, Hunter, was there, beaming. So was her coach at Duke, Debbie Leonard, who recalls Meier recording a triple-double in the first NCAA Tournament game she played in.

“Katie gave her teammates confidence when she was playing at Duke, she gives those players confidence,” Leonard said. “She put those kids on a roll. She’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes after what happened. You don’t want to hear what I have to say about it.”

Although Meier wouldn’t talk about the NCAA investigation, she appeared to allude to it during her postgame press conference when asked about how her team handled the adversity since the very beginning of the season.

“I’m so grateful for the tenacity. They really are super women,” Meier said. “My team, they are honorable and good-hearted women. They are great people. But if you try to follow us, we will rise up.

“Maybe it comes from part of that. If so, then they had my back, good for them. And let’s go, because we have a backbone. I’m grateful to them. I have my back, they have my back, and we feel like we deserve it.”

Meier is in her 18th season in Miami, a proud program with a proud history and tradition in women’s basketball ignited by former coach Ferne Labati, a member of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame who has spent 15 years with the Hurricanes and was their all-time winningest coach. .

That is, until Meier overtook her. But never until today has anyone wearing orange and green ever felt what they felt. In addition to her family and friends in attendance, Miami women’s basketball alumni also showed up to cheer on the program. In fact, they surprised Meier and the team with an eight-minute pre-game video with special messages reminding them not only of the opportunity in front of them, but how important it is to be here, right now.

As Meier spoke in this video from his post-match press conference, his mother and wife were seated in the back, beaming. When Meier came down from the podium and into the hallway, she said hello to them before apologizing and saying, “Mom, I have to scout.”

Meier disappeared into the tunnel.

There is more work to do.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button