T. Cullop vs. Purdue (1)

Everyone in Toledo believed.

I arrived in Toledo eight years ago excited to help rebuild our University of Toledo women’s basketball program and work in what I had heard was one of the best sports cities in the nation. I was also excited because Savage Arena was getting an overhaul, and for the first time in my coaching career I would get an opportunity to work in a brand-spanking new facility. I was like a kid heading into an amusement park when the doors finally swung open, and our team had a chance to practice on the new floor. So many great coaches and talented players before us found a way to reach great heights and our staff’s job was to bring the excitement back. How could you not be inspired looking at the impressive row of banners in the rafters? I decided on day one we would make no excuses.

We worked our tails off to prepare for our first home game as I wanted so badly for our fan base to be as enthusiastic as I was about our future. I was crushed watching the weather report that day, as we were pounded with snow and I doubted many fans would make the trek over to campus. Even though I felt like I needed a bobsled for my five mile journey to Savage Arena, more than 2,000 fans braved snow, sleet and cold temps to cheer our team on to victory. I was in awe! What I had found through the years is that those who live in this city and the surrounding area have big hearts, are hard-working people and their passion for sports runs deep. This persevering group of fans won’t let a little snow stand in their way! I love the fact we just completed our fifth straight season ranked in the top 30 in the country for attendance. Yes, that’s right Toledo! We finished ahead of Stanford, Texas and Michigan.

Some of the best moments of my coaching career have been watching players and teams achieve things that I’m not sure they even believed they could do, but did because all of your enthusiasm, belief and positive inspiration! How could you walk on the floor in front of a sellout crowd versus USC and not give your best? We won the 2011 Postseason WNIT championship despite being a foot shorter than USC in almost every position. I’ll never forget watching our team celebrate after the final horn. We didn’t have an all-star cast of highly recruited players, but we did have a group of self-less, hard-working players who would do anything for each other. I see countless numbers of people who exhibit these same traits all over this city who have served as great examples for our program. What I truly believe was the X-factor of that WNIT championship game, was that everyone in Toledo believed we could win. The energy in the arena that day felt like a rock concert and the confidence our players gained from that experience will stay with them much longer than the 40 minutes it took to play the game. YOU have helped so many players through the years graduate with the confidence to chase their dreams.

Toledo, you’ve also embraced our players no matter their background, race or culture. We have been able to attract some of the best players from foreign countries as well as the surrounding areas because you made them feel at home. I’ll never forget just how many fans embraced Naama Shafir when she first set foot on campus. She was believed to be the first Orthodox Jewish female to play Division I basketball. Because of her religious beliefs, she could only eat kosher meals and could not ride in a car or use electricity on the Sabbath. Despite her differences, you wrapped your arms around her and treated her like she was a member of your family. She graduated in 2013 and makes a return visit to Toledo every year to what she calls her second home.

Toledo fans are some of the best in the country! It doesn’t surprise me that in the past eight years we’ve won 78% of our overall home games and 81% of our MAC home games. Even though my friends and colleagues teased me about moving to a colder climate, it is always 70 degrees, sunny and full of energy in Savage Arena! You’ve inspired me every day to give my best and you have helped me develop future player after future leader who will go out and make their mark because of the confidence you’ve instilled. I’m so thankful the University of Toledo chose me to lead its women’s basketball program. Eight years have flown by in the blink of an eye, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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