GREENVILLE, SC – In the moments after Miami hit Villanova To Promotion to the Elite Eight At the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament on Friday, Hurricanes coach Katie Meier walked across the court and went behind the press row to look at the stands. “Where’s Mama?” She asked.
Phyllis Skolak took the front row and shared an emotional hug with her daughter. In his five-decade career as a player and coach, Meier had never made it this far in an NCAA tournament. The only person who stood behind her over the years was her mother, who picked up the pieces after a terrible tragedy and helped Meier become what she is today.
There are tears as they hug. Of course there are tears. Meier never met her biological father, who died in a plane crash before she was born. Phyllis was then 27 years old, pregnant with Meier, raising three children under the age of 4. But she found a way to make her way and eventually married Howie Skolak. Their blended family had eight children and a home full of love – and sport.
Phyllis Skolak, now 82, had to be there to watch her daughter on the brink of making history for the University of Miami. “It’s hard to find the words,” Phyllis said afterwards. “Kate worked so hard. She deserves it all. This is so special. It’s just remarkable. I’m just proud.”
What made Meier really emotional on Friday was that Howie Skolak wasn’t there. Unable to make the journey at the age of 93, he 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 ESPN.com on Friday night, her eyes filling with tears in a quiet moment after the 70-65 win. “He’s quite a special guy, and the two decided in the 1970s to bond and through tragedy became a family. We just have a lot of power. That’s who I am.”
That was on full display this season, one that started with it Meier is serving a three-game suspension in November as part of an NCAA investigation into improper contact between a booster and two players, which Miami eventually signed.
In February, the NCAA announced the results of this investigation, Put Miami on probation After graduation, women’s basketball coaches inadvertently arranged contact between Miami alum John Ruiz and Haley And Hanna CavinderTwins who transferred to the Hurricanes from Fresno State.
Meier – whose 9-Seed Hurricanes are the tallest remaining seedlings in the women’s bracket and is 3rd seeded LSU on Sunday — didn’t want to discuss the NCAA case, nor did she want to run to the Elite Eight because of her. “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 for her in the stands, with tears streaming down their faces after the win, believe this win is very much about her — and the work she put into making Miami its first Elite Eight in the to lead history. Almost all of Meier’s siblings came to Greenville. Your wife Hunter was there, beaming. So was her coach at Duke, Debbie Leonard, who recalled Meier hitting a triple-double in the first NCAA tournament game she played.
“Katie gave confidence to her teammates when she played at Duke, she gives confidence to those players,” Leonard said. “She got these kids going. She’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes after what happened. They don’t want to hear what I have to say about that.”
Scenes from a Miami Sweet 16 win.. Coach Katie Meier stopped by to find her mom pic.twitter.com/CJukQUPIq8
— Andrea Adelson (@aadelsonESPN) March 24, 2023
Though Meier declined to discuss the NCAA investigation, she appeared to allude to it in her post-game press conference when asked how her team has handled adversity from the start of the season.
“I’m just so grateful for the hardness. They are really great women,” said Meier. “My team, they are kind, honorable women. You are wonderful people. But if you try to follow us, we will rise.
“Maybe that came from some of them. If that’s the case then they had my back, so good for them. And let’s go ’cause we got a backbone I am grateful to them. I have their back, they have their backs 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 led by former University of Miami Sports Hall of Famer coach Ferne Labati, who spent 15 years with the Hurricanes and their was the most successful coach of all time.
That is, until Meier overtook her. But to date, no one wearing orange and green had ever felt what they felt. In addition to their family and friends in attendance, basketball alums from Miami also turned out to cheer on the program. In fact, they surprised Meier and the team with an eight-minute pregame video with special messages that reminded them not only of the opportunity that lay ahead, but how meaningful it is to be here at this moment.
As Meier spoke about this video from her post-game press conference, her mother and wife sat beaming in the background. As Meier walked from the podium into the hallway, she briefly greeted them before apologizing and saying, “Mom, I have to go to the Boy Scout.”
Meier disappeared into the tunnel.
There’s more to do.