Young Owls looking to surprise people

ATLANTIC CITY - The Temple women's basketball team wasn't picked to win the Atlantic 10 Conference, but that's the scenario coach Dawn Staley prefers.

"Although we're young, I think we'll surprise a lot of people," Staley said yesterday at A-10 Media Day. "We'll continue to play the underdog role. We're relishing that."

The Owls were picked to finish fourth in a poll conducted by A-10 coaches and media. Among city schools, Saint Joseph's and La Salle were tabbed to finish sixth and 10th, respectively. George Washington, coached by Father Judge alum Joe McKeown, is favored to win the conference.

"I think on paper it probably makes sense, but coaches are a little paranoid by nature," McKeown said. "I feel like we have a chance to be good this year, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us, too.

As do the Owls, whose string of three-straight A-10 titles was snapped last season by Xavier.

The Owls lost A-10 Player of the Year Kamesha Hairston to the WNBA, but return three starters – Lady Comfort, Shenita Landry and LaKeisha Eaddy. They face an ambitious nonconference schedule that features Duke, Maryland and Rutgers.

"We'll keep pounding at the pavement and figure out how to get up to the being one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10," Staley said.

They found a way to do just that last year when they had to replace three starters, including Candice Dupree, who has become a two-time WNBA all-star. The Owls reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season, bowing to top-ranked Duke in the second round.

"We love the challenge of losing a WNBA player and filling it in with people who aren't anticipated to be top players in this league," Staley said.

Temple isn't the only Philly team missing a top player from last season. The Hawks lost their top three scorers – Ayahna Cornish, Whitney Ffrench and Jen Oyler – from a squad that advanced to the A-10 finals.

The Explorers lost Crista Ricketts, who finished third among A-10 scoring leaders, averaging 17 points per game.

However, senior Carlene Hightower, who averaged 17.5 points per game to finish second in the A-10, is one of three returning starters.


Big East poll

Villanova was selected to finish 12th in the Big East Conference in a poll by the league's 16 head coaches.

Villanova was selected to finish 12th in the Big East Conference in a poll by the league's 16 head coaches.

Connecticut, which won the conference last season, is again expected to finish on top.

The Wildcats return four starters, including two seniors – Stacie Witman and Lisa Karcic – and two sophomores, Maria Getty and Tia Grant. Witman averaged 12.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, while Karcic notched 11.3 ppg and 6.1 rpg.

The Wildcats finished in the Big East cellar last season, posting a 2-14 conference record. They open the season at La Salle on Nov. 9.



First Place Votes in Parentheses)


1. G. Washington (17) 1. Connecticut (15)

2. Charlotte 2. Rutgers (1)

2. Xavier 3. West Virginia

4. Temple 4. Pittsburgh

5. Richmond 5. Notre Dame

6. Saint Joseph's 6. Louisville

7. Massachusetts 7. DePaul

8. Dayton 8. Marquette

9. Saint Louis 9. South Florida

10. La Salle 10. Seton Hall

11. St. Bonaventure 11. St. John's

12. Rhode Island 12. Villanova

13. Duquesne 13. Syracuse

14. Fordham 14. Cincinnati

15. Providence

16. Georgetown