Ex-Penn State coach Portland dead at 65
Rene Portland, who built Penn State into a women’s basketball powerhouse during a 27-year tenure, has died after a three-year fight with cancer.
She was 65. D’Anjolell Memorial Home of Broomall in Pennsylvania confirmed her death Sunday.
Portland coached the Lady Lions’ first All-Americans, achieved their first No. 1 ranking and reached their first Final Four. Of her 693 wins, 606 came as coach of the Lady Lions.
With dazzling point guard Helen Darling and stellar center Andrea Garner, Penn State reached the 2000 Final Four in Philadelphia, upsetting Iowa State and Louisiana Tech before falling to eventual-champion Connecticut in the national semifinals.
Late in her career, Portland also faced accusations she discriminated against players whom she perceived to be gay, with a former player suing Portland and the school in 2005.
An internal school investigation led to a one-game suspension and $10,000 fine though Portland disputed the findings. The lawsuit was settled confidentially.
She resigned as coach of Penn State in 2007.
Portland was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame last November. “Rene fought a courageous and determined fight against her cancer,” former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said.
“She will be remembered as someone who gave her life to her family, her teams and her women. As a player, she was a fierce competitor at Immaculata and she carried that trait into her coaching career. She was a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother and friend who will be missed.”
Portland took over a successful program, and the Lady Lions finished 19-9 in 1981 in her first season. The next year, Penn State finished 24-6 and received an invitation to the first NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The Lady Lions emerged as a national power in 1985, reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament behind Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Kahadeejah Herbert and freshman point guard Suzie McConnell, who would go on to be an All-American and Olympic gold-medalist.
On Jan. 3, 1991, a Penn State team led by Susan Robinson beat top-ranked Virginia and Dawn Staley on the road, 73-71, and four days later the Lady Lions had their first No. 1 ranking.
The Lady Lions went into the NCAA tournament with a No. 1 ranking and a 29-1 record that year, but after getting a bye in the first round, Penn State was upset in the second round by James Madison.
Penn State again received a No. 1 ranking in 1994, but was denied a trip to the Final Four when it was beaten in the Midwest Regional final by Alabama.