WEST POINT, N.Y. -- A month ago, 28-year-old Army coach Maggie Dixon left the Christl Arena court on the shoulders of jubilant cadets after leading the women's basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament berth.
Yesterday, Dixon was mourned in a chapel across the US Military Academy's campus, a day after she died following a sudden episode of irregular heartbeat.
Dixon died Thursday night at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., academy spokesman Lt. Col. Kent Cassella said.
An autopsy conducted yesterday found that Dixon had an enlarged heart and a problem with a heart valve, according to the Westchester County Medical Examiner's office. The valve problem could have caused her heart to beat irregularly and ultimately stop.
About 500 people filled the Catholic Chapel, including her family and players who remembered her as equal parts coach, sister, and best friend. On the cover of the memorial service program was a picture of a beaming Dixon, her left index finger jabbing skyward as she was carried off the court after the historic win.
Those who spoke universally recalled Dixon's exuberance, humor, and the guidance she offered when things weren't going well.
''Adversity, ladies. How are you going to react?" guard Adrienne Payne said in remembering one of Dixon's challenges to her team.
Cadets, who made up about three-quarters of the crowd, were excused from classes to attend. It was somber and stoic, with few tears and some laughter mixed in. In front of the altar was a basketball, the Patriot League trophy they won last month, and a photo of the team.
Dixon was hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition after collapsing at a friend's house, where she had gone for afternoon tea, her older brother, Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, said.
''Maggie touched so many people beyond basketball," he said in a subsequent statement released yseterday by Pitt. ''Our family has received an outpouring of sympathy from across the country and we are deeply appreciative. . . . I know she looked up to me. But I always looked up to her, too, and it's obvious that a lot of other people did as well."
He said he had breakfast with his sister on the morning she collapsed and said that she had apparently been feeling well.
Dixon's time at Army was short but significant.
She arrived at the storied military academy on the banks of the Hudson River in October, just 11 days before the start of the season and inherited a team that had gone 74-70 over the previous five seasons. The team struggled at the beginning, before winning nine of its last 11 games.
Just six months after Dixon took over, the 69-68 win over Holy Cross in the Patriot League final put Army into the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The rookie coach's accomplishment earned extra acclaim because her brother had taken Pitt to the men's tournament at the same time. The Dixons are believed to be the first brother and sister to coach in the NCAA Tournament in the same year.
''I believe she was having dreams of grandeur that we'd dunk on Tennessee," forward Ashley Magnani said.
And, despite a 102-54 first-round loss to the Volunteers, things were looking up for the Black Knights.
''I just loved the energy that coach brought to practice every day and the way she never gave up on us, always believed in us," guard Cara Enright said. ''She would tell us to 'use what you've learned here at the academy and apply it to basketball.' "
Members of her team were with Dixon's family members at her bedside Thursday.