Guru's Musings: Some Suspense Over Big Five Women's Awards

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA - Well, if the New York Football Giants and Jets can play in New Jersey, then why not the Big Five women.

  That will be the situation Thursday night - not in game action - but in terms of the scene of the the annual awards reception, which, for the first time, will originate across the Delaware River in the Garden State in nearby Pennsauken where the event swill occur at The Savoy, formerly known as the Woodbine Inn.

  The Herb Good Club banquet, wich features the men's awards, has already been held at the same place, while the annual Philadelphia Sportswriters Association hosts their event in Cherry Hill. So there is a history for having Philly events across the creek.

  Thursday night's ceremonies will feature five individual awards -- player, coach, and rookie of the year, along with most improved and sportsmanship.

  The first and second fives will be revealed as will the all-academic team.

  Unlike the men's proceedings, none of the winners have been announced in advance.

  Some individuals are prohibitive favorites, while in other situations there is some close competition.

  If Drexel were in the Big Five,. player of the year could be more competitive because junior forward Gabriela Marginean would be eligible. The native of Romania led the Dragons to their first Colonial Athletic Association title and first NCAA tournament appearance.

 But with the scoring sensation out of the running, Villanova senior Laura Kurz, the former Germantown Academy star who tranferred back home from Duke two years ago, appears a strong favorite.

  Though the Wildcats only went 2-2 in the city - ending Temple's 18-game Big Five win streak and beating Penn in the final minute -- Kurz statistically dominated all the local players while being the top scorer and rebounder on the Wildcats.

  She's already been named to the Big East first team and as the conference's co-most improved player after helping the Wildcats finish tied for fourth in the conference and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.

  Temple, under first-year coach Tonya Cardoza, the former Connecticut assistant who replaced Dawn Staley, extendied its City Series title streak tio five, though the Villanova loss dropped the Owls into a tie with St. Joseph's for the City Series bragging rights.

  Select members of the media get to vote along with Big Five coaches and sports information directors, who are not allowed to vote for their own players.

  Shenita Landry would be the best challenger to Kurz from the Owls, but in reality Cardoza got the job done in her rookie season with a committee effort in which different players stepped up to lead along the way.

  The other three schools struggled in their overall records, otherwise Penn's Carrie Biemer, or La Salle's Morgan Robertson or Margaret Elderton, might be in the hunt. St. Joseph's was like Temple in that the Hawks also had a rotation of contributions as opposed to one person being the night-after-night goto. That person could have been Sarah Acker, last year's freshman of the year who was sidelined with a hip injury this season and recently decided not to return to active duty.

  Robertson, the junior from Amarillo, Texas, seems the frontrunner for most improved after filling the vacancy in the post left by the graduation of former Explorers star Carlene Hightower.

  Sportsmanship honors could go to most anyone -- each team nominated a player to the ballot -- such is the nature of the local competition, which usually spills over into the Northeast after the season in the Philadelphia Department of Recreation's NCAA Summer League.

  There were several outstanding newcomers and thus either Temple's Kristen McCarthy or St. Joseph's Mariame Djouara seem worthy candidates with a few others in the mix.

   A core group exists ahead of all the candidates for the two teams of five, but it is just a matter on who lands on which squad. One of the unknowns is the reference point each voter draws from. Many give precedence to the Big Five games as a major factor while others start with overall season perfomance and then drill into the Big Five action, if necessary, to separate the contenders.

 It is in that regard that the biggest supsense of the night -- and it might not be known until the finish if it is the last award -- is the coach of the year.

   In one corner is Villanova's Harry Perretta, who has won the award four times previously in his three decades on the Main Line. Overall performance seems to make him a frontrunner and he could have had this baby wrapped up with a Big Five sweep had not the Wildcats lost to La Salle in overtime in the very first game of the season and to St. Joseph's in triple overtime in one of the most exciting City Series games ever played after regulation.

  Hey, it was 40-40 before the first overtime and the Guru actually considered leaving Philadelphia U., which St. Joseph's was using as one of its temporary homes during the renovation of Hawk Hill, to go down the street to a famous steak sandwich place knowning he wouldn't miss any action.

 In the overall category, Perretta guided the Wildcats to a fourth-place tie in the rugged Big East and Villanova also registered several upsets of nationally-ranked teams, including two over conference rival Notre Dame.

   Cindy Griffin, in getting the Hawks into the Big Five title picture, would earn some votes except St. Joe's was so erratic outside the local court wars.

    Cardoza had the difficult task of not only replacing Staley, but taking on a team that had graduated its star point guard in Ashley Morris and sizeable center in Lady Comfort.

    Temple struggled on its usual tough non-conference schedule and the head-to-head loss to Villanova could be the difference for some in tilting to Perretta. But the Owls did sweep their co-champ in the Hawks and impressed down the stretch by sweeping the top of the Atlantic Ten on a five-game streak that included an upset of nationally-ranked Xavier.

   In fact, Cardoza, who was a teammate of Staley's at Virginia in the late 1980s-early 1990s, had become the frontrunner for the Maggie Dixon Award the WBCA gives to the top coaching newcomer until Ball State found a way to shock Tennessee in the NCAA tournament's opening round.

 Furthermore, Ball State won its division and then the overall title in the Mid-American Conference while the Owls came up just short by comparison in the Atlantic Ten. And then Ball State went one round further than Temple in the NCAA tournament.

The odds say Perretta, but one can never count out those who served time as a player or staff member to Geno Auriemma.

                                       Hitting the Ground at Penn

      New Penn coach Mike McLaughlin has been busy getting organized since becoming the Quakers coach a week ago, though his official start date on the contract is May 1.

    No word yet on candidates for his staff, but he said earlier this week, "First, I want to name a recruiting coordinator and I've already talked to several people. And then that second person will likely be someone I already know and are comfortable with in that they know me and my style and I know them."

    No word yet on any names to succeed McLaughlin at Holy Family. Another local Division II job in the Central Atlantic College Conference remains open at University of the Sciences.

  The Guru returns in 24 hours when the dateline to start the post will say Pennsauken, N.J.

    -- Mel