Red Lion grad has front-row seat to history at UConn
- Debra (Baer) Fiske graduated from Red Lion High School in 1998 and was a standout basketball player.
- She played college basketball at the University of Connecticut for coach Geno Auriemma.
- Baer is now a color analyst for the IMG UConn radio network and does broadcasts for UConn games.
When Debra (Baer) Fiske put her headset down on Nov. 17, 2014, she couldn’t have imagined the significant series of events she was about to witness.
Fiske, a former Red Lion High School basketball star who later excelled at UConn, is in her fifth season as the color analyst for UConn women’s basketball broadcasts on the IMG UConn radio network.
In that role, she’s had a front-row seat to NCAA history.
On that November night in 2014, the Huskies were defeated in overtime by Stanford. It would be the last UConn loss that Fiske, or anyone else, would witness.
The Huskies hit the floor six nights later, routed Creighton, and haven’t looked back since.
The streak: UConn is currently in the midst of the longest winning streak in major college basketball history. It's one that reached 100 straight games Monday night when top-ranked UConn defeated No. 6 South Carolina, 66-55.
“This group this year, knowing that graduation had taken such a big toll, and the schedule that they had, it was one of those years where you were like, ‘OK, they’re going to have a couple of losses,” Fiske said.
The Huskies made a point to set up the most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation, having already taken on five of the top eight teams in the Associated Press Top 25 prior to Monday’s victory. That slate included road games against No.2 Maryland, No. 4 Florida State and No. 7 Notre Dame.
The team lost national player of the year Breanna Stewart to graduation after the completion of a 38-0 national championship campaign last season. They also lost Nancy Lieberman Award winner Moriah Jefferson and All-American Athletic Conference selection Morgan Tuck. The Lieberman Award goes to the nation's top point guard.
“So I don’t think anybody truly thought about the concept of 100 wins, the (old record of) 90 was impressive, but this is amazing,” Fiske said. “There are a lot of top 10 teams played in that run, Final Fours, national titles won. The concept that the number could never be reached again is pretty amazing.”
This current streak is the second record-making run for UConn, whose 91st victory on Jan. 14 bested the previous record of 90 wins. That mark was set by the Huskies from 2008-2010. Before that, the UCLA men’s team held the record with 89 wins from 1971-1974.
Of the current 100 straight victories, 59 have been decided by more than 40 points.
“The consistency is amazing to me, to go undefeated, because you have those off nights where you don’t mentally feel up to it,” Fiske said. “And to keep that consistency, there’s so much more to maintaining that kind of streak with the demand that coaches put on them. It says a lot.”
Playing days: Fiske, who is currently the athletic director at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Connecticut, was a 1988 graduate of Red Lion. Then known as Debra Baer, she went on to become the starting point guard at UConn from 1988 to 1992.
During her time in Storrs, Fiske played an integral role in helping establish the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma among the game’s elite. Auriemma had arrived in Storrs only a few years earlier, his first season coming in 1985-86.
In 1989, Fiske was a member of Auriemma’s first UConn team to win a Big East championship and make an NCAA tournament appearance. Fiske and the Huskies would achieve another first in 1991 with the program’s first Final Four trip. It was those two accomplishments that Fiske was most proud of during her days in Storrs.
“We didn’t know anything bigger than that, and it was the first time for the school, nobody was expecting it,” Fiske said of the 1989 conference crown. “The biggest (accomplishment) was when we went to the Final Four and the experience of it. I mean now it’s a common thing they are on ESPN, they get so much attention. But at the time, it was in New Orleans, we were going down Bourbon Street and the TV cameras are following and doing stories and it was just so much fun.”
In the days since Fiske was on the floor, Auriemma and the Huskies have collected 11 national championships and 21 conference tournament crowns.
“His vision and how he can motivate players,” is what Fiske attributes Auriemma’s success to. “There were times where he would pass on phenomenal players (in recruiting) because they didn’t fit his team concept. He’s good at seeing how personalities work and how to form them. He’s so good at pushing those buttons to motivate players.”
While she admits she never saw the program growing into the present-day juggernaut, Fiske is proud to have played a part in setting the stage for history.
“Being recruited, (Auriemma) talked about, at the time, (the goal) was a Big East title and going to the Final Four. Going through that process, it was such a great experience, and what was exciting for us was that there were a lot of program firsts. And now, what’s exciting for the current players, is that (winning) is the expectation.”
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.