Women's Basketball Preview
Well, we've had such an exciting football season it's hard to believe that there's still a some untapped excitement. The woman's basketball team is getting ready to try for its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance after losing some of the best players in the program's history. Fortunately for the Hokies, the personnel coming in have the potential to be as good and maybe even better than those who have just departed -- although anyone who's been watching our 1998-99 group of seniors for any amount of time will find them hard to forget.
This year's squad will feature most of the starters from last season (Jr.-F Tere Williams, So.-C Nicole Jones and r-Jr.-G Amy Wetzel) with the addition of medical redshirt sophomore Sarah Hicks at three guard and freshman Emily Lipton taking over the point. Lipton will look a little odd at point guard for the Hokies - she's 5'9. Tech hasn't had a regular that tall at the point since 1993, when Sue Logsdon and Lisa Leftwich shared distributing duties.
Lock and Load
This team will follow the football team's example of reloading instead of rebuilding with some solid additions to the bench in freshmen Christina Strother (C-6'2) and Katrina Williams (G-5'9) and sophomore partial qualifier Chrystal Starling (G/F-5'11). The Hokie freshman class took an unexpected hit when Renee Cosby (Freshman G/F, Vienna, VA) departed from the team for personal reasons. My sources tell me she just lost the desire to play collegiate basketball and that she's still enrolled in school.
That's a big hit for the team, as she was a very impressive high school player (and HS teammate of Nicole Jones) that would've added another great weapon off the bench. I don't know if the door is open for her return, but I wish Renee all the best.
This year's squad will show a much different front than last year's team with the respect to just how many tools Bonnie Henrickson will have at her disposal. With Sarah Hicks (37.5% 3-pt shooting in 1997-98) at the three-guard Tech will have its first legitimate threat from behind the arc in the starting lineup since the days of Tech's first trip to the NCAA Tournament behind Sue Logsdon and Christi Osborne in 1993-94 -- the days when Bonnie was the associate head coach.
Not only do the Hokies have some outside threats, but the difference in the make-up of the team from just a few years ago is that we are now recruiting "athletes." I put that term in quotes because most of the players we've had in the past have been that -- players. They showed a lot of grit and determination and more heart than I've ever seen on the playing field/court. But there was that missing element - something that's not readily evident, but when you hold the two side by side, you see very clearly.
Last season was the "official" transition year for this club. When watching warm-ups during the A-10 Tournament, I knew change was upon us. Looking at Michelle Houseright (don't get me wrong, Michelle is my all-time favorite) take baskets, she used more "finesse" where as when seeing Nicole Jones and Tere Williams, they were pure strength and speed going to the basket. It's this "athletic" ability that will put the Hokies into the category of the Tennessee’s, where as the "finesse" was a stepping stone to get to the end goal.
Starting the Season
Despite winning their exhibition game 63-58 over the Hungarian National team, Tech shot a horrid 30.9 percent from the floor. The team and the season are still young. Look for this team to take the A-10 by storm.
Tech will start its regular season this year with an invite to the Pre-season WNIT.
The program is making strides with a stronger schedule, stronger players, and the team's offices moving into the new Merryman Center can't hurt on the recruiting front. Speaking of recruiting, a top-flight recruit was "stolen" recently from North Carolina. Davina Simmons, of Winston-Salem, NC, has been a life-long UNC fan and after her visit to Tech, decided this was the place for her.
This team will be tested early with their invite to the Pre-season WNIT. They face Liberty to open the season and the WNIT - a team they've beaten even in the worst of times. But the next team they'd probably face is a tough SEC opponent, and a team from last year's Final Four, Georgia.
While the football team is riding a banner season, to expect a season like the last year's for the women's basketball team is probably a little much, but not out of the question. We'll just have to wait and see.
Leon Saffelle covered Tech women's basketball for the Collegiate Times from 1994 to 1996 and occasionally covers Tech sports for the Journal Newspapers in Northern Virginia.