What a better way to kick off our series on the 10 most amazing North Shore sports accomplishments of the last 25 years than with the area's first and only NCAA national team title: the magical run of the 1986 Salem State College women's basketball team.
Still known on campus as the "Dream Season", the 1985-86 campaign saw the Lady Vikings amass a 29-1 record en route to a win over Bishop (Texas) College, 89-85, for the NCAA Division 3 national championship.
Even more amazing was that the team's best player was homegrown star Evie Oquendo. The Salem native was a three-time All-American and scored 1,738 points in her collegiate career — at a time when there was no 3-point shot.
The finishing touch? All five of Salem State's NCAA tourney games were played at home at the O'Keefe Center.
A national title won at home, led by a three-time All-American scoring machine that doubles as a hometown hero? It's the stuff Hollywood scripts are made of.
"It certainly was a unique accomplishment," said long-time head coach Tim Shea, who earned NEWBA and WBCA Coach of the Year honors that historic season.
Salem State is one of only two schools across New England to win an NCAA women's basketball championship at any level — Division 1 powerhouse UConn is the other. Aside from one setback against Bridgewater State, the Lady Vikings were unbeatable that season. Their energy and depth were simply too much for the opposition to overcome.
It was often said that Salem State had players on its bench that might be starting for other clubs. That was never more apparent than when Oquendo fouled out late in the championship game. Shea simply called on Tricia O'Brien, typically a forward that did the job at guard marvelously.
While it may have been the longest 1:39 of Oquendo's life, the bottom line was that SSC won it all as a team. It was a classic example of the Lady Vikings' M.O.
"When I think of that '86 team, I'm reminded of Barbara Tourville scoring and rebounding, Mary Dee (Brown) Sokol making clutch plays, Annie Breitenwischer doing a phenomenal job inside, Beth (Kapnis) Livermore playing so great in the final game," Oquendo told The News in 1999, when she was named to our "Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century" list.
"There were a lot of (great) players on that team. How about Janet Miller coming off the bench and rebounding like she did?"
Not to be forgotten are Pam Wine, Mo Honan, Pam (Wetherbee) Metcalf, Elaine Burns of North Reading; Holly (Brennan) Sheehan of Salem;and Michelle Allen and Carrie Gladden.
The Lady Vikings were ranked No. 1 in the nation for the most of the season after reaching the Final Four in 1984 and the Elite Eight in '85. Finally, in '86, they put SSC on the women's basketball map forever.
Shea, another Salem native, still coaches at SSC and is the school's athletic director. He won his 600th game last season and has made Salem State one of the most respected programs in the country in his 28 years at the helm.
Additionally, assistant coaches Charlie Maihos (Peabody) and Nancy Marticio (Danvers) each had local ties.
A primarily local school winning a national title is an accomplishment in itself. To clinch the crown on its home floor is even better. But to do it with a roster filled with local stars to boot? That exemplifies amazing.