The enthusiasm is justified. "State has so much talent this year I don't know how anyone can stop them," says Tennessee Coach Pat Head. To make sure no one does, Yow and Finch have been working on new tactics that include John Wooden's fast-breaking UCLA offense and Bob Cousy's man-to-man Boston College defense. Three weeks ago Yow called Portland Coach Jack Ramsay to discuss the Trail Blazer offense. "I think we can run some plays off it," says the prematurely gray 35-year-old coach, who like Ramsay stresses team play.
And she now has enough talent to use a balanced attack. Leading the holdovers is Beasley, who averaged 17.5 points and 11.3 rebounds last season. After seeing her play, former Marquette Coach Al McGuire said, no doubt with a touch of his customary hyperbole, "She's the best shooter, man or woman, I've ever seen." The center's weakness was defense, but after playing on the U.S. Junior Pan-Am team last summer, she can match elbows with anyone.
Earnhardt, once again the second leading scorer (15.9) and rebounder (7.3), will be popping her 10-foot jumper, and Yow has eight other letterwomen, including the Young twins and Doby, who blocked 33 shots last year. State's starting guards graduated, but have been replaced by the two best high school players in Virginia, if not the country: Ginger Rouse and Trudi Lacey. Both are 5'10", can dribble behind their backs without breaking stride and have exceptional body control.
State used to set up on offense 95% of the time. Now, with the two-speedy young Virginians and with Beasley 12 pounds lighter, it will be zip, zip, swish.
Despite all this talent the Wolfpack will not have an easy road to the national title because the Southeast region is the toughest in the country. There are other powerhouses at Tennessee, Old Dominion, Tennessee Tech, Memphis State and Kentucky. At Tennessee, All-America Trish Roberts is gone, but Coach Head went through Georgia like Sherman. She snatched Cindy Brogdon and Jan Seay from Mercer and recruited two Georgia all-staters, Cindy Ely and Debbie Groover, to go with fleet holdover Guard Holly Warlick.
In practice the Vols wear bright orange T shirts emblazoned With OFFENSE SELLS TICKETS BUT DEFENSE WINS THE GAME. It is going to have to, because Tennessee lacks a strong inside game to match North Carolina State's or Old Dominion's. ODU has 6'5" Danish wonderwoman Inge Nissen and 5'10" Olympian Nancy Lieberman back. New Coach Marianne Stanley, a former Immaculata star, arrived in Norfolk with two ex-Mighty Mac forwards, Dolly Van Buskirk and Linda Jerome, who should lead the Monarchs into the Top Ten. Tennessee Tech lost four starters, but leading scorer Gayle Burgess (15.7 points), 6'5" Center Trish Bell and speedy Forward Pam Chambers are still around. They might be enough to take the Golden Eaglettes to the nationals for the seventh straight time. Memphis State and Kentucky are building rapidly and could surprise.
In the East, Immaculata has lost Coach Cathy Rush and her 149-15 record to retirement, All-America Mary Scharff to graduation and Assistant Coach Stanley and two players to Old Dominion. It could be a long season for the once mighty Macs, with Montclair State, led by the nation's leading scorer, Carol (Blaze) Blazejowski (34-point average), St. Joseph's, Rutgers and Maryland on the schedule.
The AIAW's other traditional power, Delta State (109-6 the last four years), will have to play without all-everything Center Lucy Harris and team leader Wanda Hairston, but seniors Debbie Brock, Cornelia Ward and Ramona Von Boeckman are on hand. They give the Lady Statesmen a chance of winning a record fourth straight national title. LSU, which still has its 6'2" Aussies, Maree Bennie and Julie Gross, and Wayland Baptist are among the few teams in the country not hard hit by graduation. Wayland Coach Dean Weese has the starting lineup that averaged 86.9 points a game last year. The Flying Queens, with tall Jill Rankin and strong Marie Kocurek inside, should be among the final four in March. However, Texas is women's basketball country, and Stephen F. Austin, Baylor or Texas could clip the Queens' wings.
In the Midwest, Kansas State is the favorite, while on the West Coast, UCLA, under hew Coach Billie Moore, will field its strongest team ever. Three-time All-America Ann Meyers (18.3 scoring average) is back, along with the team's two other top scorers, Anita Ortega (14.8) and Dianne Frierson (12.2): In the AIAW's new championship format, which will copy the NCAA by bringing only four teams, rather than 16, to the finals at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA will have the easiest region to win. If the Bruins make it to the finals, beware. They have not lost at home since Feb. 5, 1975.
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