ACC women’s race looks like another Duke-Carolina slugfest
There is a simple litmus test to separate the true ACC hoops junkie from the fair-weather wannabe. It is this: The genuine fan follows the women as well as the men.
It must also be noted that a goodly number of those diehards reside in and around Greensboro, Guilford County and the Triad. And the reason for that is easily explainable: For the last five years and into the foreseeable future, the Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the ACC Women’s Tournament, and the area has fairly adopted the women’s game and taken it to its collective heart, as it has come to realize just how talented these young ladies are and how competitive their game has become.
Since the turn of the century, the pecking order for the women’s half of the conference has essentially paralleled the men’s ‘— meaning Duke has dominated. Until last year. Just as the Tar Heel men won the regular-season crown (Duke did, however, win the ACC Tournament) on their way to the national championship, so did the Lady Heels end Duke’s six-year reign. Last season the two tied at 12-2 in the league, but UNC decimated the Lady Devils in the ACC Tournament finals, 88-67, in front of a sell-out crowd at the Coliseum.
On paper the 2005-’06 season looks to be a repeat, but with the order reversed. Duke has reclaimed its accustomed spot atop the preseason rankings, with Carolina a very close second. The rest of the conference is a jumble, in part because of the addition of Boston College, which necessitates an unbalanced schedule. Gone is the double round-robin format, as each team now plays 14 conference games, with only three of those (six games total) being home-and-home matchups.
What is known is this: Last year seven teams advanced to the NCAAs, including newcomer Boston College (from the Big East). No fewer than 13 all-conference performers are returning, which virtually guarantees that the caliber of the ACC women’s league will be among the best in the nation.
Again, just like the men’s.
Not only is 2005 Player of the Year Monique Currie returning, but so is every starter from last year’s 31-5 squad. Which means Duke is poised for a run at the national championship. They return 87 percent of their scoring and 90.1 percent of their rebounding, but that’s not all. Among coach Gail Goestenkors’ four blue-chip recruits is Gatorade national Player of the Year Abby Waner, who averaged an eye-popping 32.5 points as a high school senior.
UNC may have the nation’s best point guard in Ivory Latta, who will be joined be three other starters from the team that advanced to the West Regional final, losing to eventual national champ Baylor. Keeping the baby blue bloodlines flowing will be freshmen Rasnanda McCants, sister of Rashad, and Martina Wood, daughter of Al.
Don’t dare tell Maryland coach Brenda Frese that this is a two-team race, however. Paced by all-conference guard Shay Doran and Rookie of the Year Crystal Langhorne, the Terps look to improve on last year’s 22-10 record. Easily a preseason Top 20 team, don’t count them out.
Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow is aching for a return to the glory days at NC State, and this year may be her best chance in awhile. Her top five scorers return from a 21-8, 10-4 unit, but the key may be 6-7 junior-college transfer Gillian Goring. No one should dare take them lightly.
Newcomer Boston College, under coach Cathy Inglese, has made the NCAA field the last four years (and five out of six), and that should not change in their new, albeit tougher, league. 6-2 wing Brooke Queenan is as explosive on both ends of the court as any player in the circuit.
Coach Sue Semrau guided Florida State to a school-best 24-8, 9-5 record last season and was rewarded by being named the ACC Coach of the Year. A repeat performance is not out of the question, as three starters return, led by junior guard Alicia Gladden.
The two bubble teams could wind up restaging the Battle of Virginia. Virginia Tech went 17-12, 6-8 last year, and returns four starters, three of whom were double-digit scorers. They may well jump past their in-state counterpart, as Debbie Ryan’s Virginia squad lost its top three scorers from a 21-11, 8-6 edition. Her five promising freshmen need to grow up in a hurry.
Wake Forest climbed out of its perennial position in the ACC cellar under new coach Mike Peterson last year, and they have no intentions of returning there. If the Lady Deacs are to continue their climb, it will be two seniors who lead the way, 6-2 wing Liz Strunk and 5-7 sharp-shooter Cotelia Bond-Young.
If Georgia Tech is going to make a move into the upper half of the league, this might be a good year to do it. Coach McChelle Joseph returns all five starters and top nine scorers. The down side is that they only won four ACC games last year. 6-3 senior Kasha Terry left the team for personal reasons last year; she’ll provide a huge boost this campaign.
First-year coach Katie Meir inherits a Miami team that went 13-16, 4-10 last season. For them to improve, the ACC’s leading scorer, Tamara James (22.3), will have to get some help, possibly from juco transfer, 6-4 Cara Williams.
Another new coach, Christy McKinney, is going to have her hands full at Clemson. All five starters return, but again, it’s from a 8-20, 2-12 squad. 6-4 senior center Amanda White is the player to watch.
The 2006 ACC Women’s Tournament will be held March 2’–5 at the Greensboro Coliseum. If you call yourself an ACC fanatic, you’ll be there.
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