Pick any Women’s Quartet Final since 1993. Or almost every WNBA Final in history. From chronicling how UConn and Tennessee turned out to be the biggest women’s college basketball competition to capture the evolution of the WNBA, ESPN reporter MA Voepel has been a constant presence on the court, documenting the growth of women’s basketball at all levels.
On Friday, Voepel will be honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award in the Naismith Hall of Fame, given annually to honor outstanding contributions to basketball. Several members of the women’s basketball community shared their thoughts on Voepel’s impact on sports coverage.
Dawn Staley, South Carolina women’s basketball coach
Voepel has worked for ESPN since 1996, the same year he covered gold medalists from Staley and USA Basketball at the Atlanta Olympics as well as the first of three back-to-back NCAA championships from Chamique Holdsclaw and Tennessee—before any of today’s college players existed. So I was born. The year before, Voepel was on hand when UConn won their first national title, and he was on the court for all ten who followed.
“Michael was the foundation of covering women’s sports when that wasn’t the common thing to do. His compassionate telling of stories brought athletes into our lives before we had other ways to make that connection, and that was invaluable in sowing the seed for fans,” Staley said. Gamecocks coach and two-time NCAA Champion, which Voepel covered during her All-America career in Virginia. “His true interest in people—not just the athletes they represent to the public—continues to raise the bar for women’s sports.”
Sue Bird, Star of Seattle Storm
In an ESPN Voepel story before the 2017 WNBA All-Star Game in Seattle, Bird revealed that she was gay and dating NFL and Seattle Ryan star Megan Rapinoe. Ahead of the last game of Bird’s career earlier this week, the base said Phoebele’s continued presence builds trust with the players.
“With that confidence, you can do better interviews,” Baird said. “What comes from that is great stories, great coverage. It was a huge part of the WNBA for sure, just being able to move this league forward.
“He was really instrumental in getting these stories out and telling them the right way.”
Kathy Engelbert, WNBA Commissioner
In the WNBA, this included issues such as individual profiles.
Over the past few seasons, Voepel has documented the league’s progress on LGBTQ+ issues and its commitment to social justice, as well as helping readers better understand the league’s collective bargaining agreement, salary structure, and identify upcoming priorities.
“Over the course of 26 seasons, a lot has changed for the WNBA, and during it all, the MA there has been brilliantly telling every story along the way,” Engelbert said. “MA’s impact on the women’s basketball ecosystem is unparalleled.”
Geno Orima, UConn women’s basketball coach
Auriemma values Voepel’s originality and dedication to women’s basketball.
“There haven’t been a huge number of people who have given themselves to the sport,” he said. “Some people have covered the game, but that wasn’t their primary passion, their primary focus.” “For Michael, I think that was something that made him well liked by a lot of coaches. Here he was someone who was loyal and committed to raising awareness of the game and was looking for the good in the game. Someone to shine a light on…stories that I think people don’t usually get on cover of the treadmill.” Women’s basketball.
“I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Michael. I knew it was going to be a real, real, heartfelt conversation. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, someone asked me to do this interview, but I don’t really want to do this interview.'” Better cover some other sports. “I will always be indebted to Michael for that and I know a lot of other coaches will be too.”
Kim Mulkee, LSU’s women’s basketball coach
Count Molkee among them. After winning three National titles at Baylor, Mulkey left to take charge at LSU, and Voepel was on hand in Baton Rouge to capture the start of a new era last fall. Mulkey granted unprecedented access to Voepel, who spent several days with the Mulkey family and a program to write what would become one of the most memorable pieces of the 2021-22 season.
“MA’s knowledge and dedication helped drive our game forward with in-depth storytelling and reporting,” said Mulki. “Over the years, MA coverage has been comprehensive, thoughtful, and fair.”
Michelle Smith, longtime fellow, former writer for ESPN
Smith worked alongside Voepel for nearly three decades, calling her peer “my personal standard for women’s basketball coverage.”
“When something big happens in the game, his idea is the one I want to see first,” Smith said. “He honored the game with his coverage, and the game is honored by having such a moral and globally respected person as its historian.”
Auriemma added: “Everyone talked about Curt Gowdy as a skilled professional, and everyone knew you would really know what the topic was and there was no hidden agenda. I think Michael represents just that and is the perfect recipient of the Kurt Gowdy Award.”
ESPN’s Kevin Bilton and Alexa Filippo contributed to this report.