Towson State and UMBC plan to begin the women's basketball season the same way they did a year ago, by dominating Loyola and Coppin State in the Big Four Classic. After that, they're looking for different scripts than the ones they followed in 1989-90.
Loyola is host to the second annual Big Four Classic, which begins tonight at Reitz Arena. UMBC and Coppin State meet in the 6 p.m. game, and Loyola and Towson State tangle at 8. The matchups retain a city-county flavor tomorrow, with Towson-Coppin going at 6 and Loyola-UMBC at 8.
Towson State and UMBC each swept two games in the same format last year. The Tigers also beat UMBC in a regular-season game, but it wasn't an easy year for Towson coach Ellen Fitzkee and a senior-dominated team. The Tigers slumped to an 11-16 record, and both Fitzkee and star guard Tara Rottet had to deal with the deaths of their fathers.
"Coach [Fitzkee] had a lot on her mind, and we had no chemistry at all," said Rottet. "Now, the upperclassmen are pulling along the young kids, and I believe we can win our league."
Rottet, a 5-foot-4 junior who was the East Coast Conference Rookie of the Year in 1988-89, is Towson State's only returning starter. Backcourt partner Gina Daniel, from Fallston, is the only senior, and Amy Green, a junior from Dulaney, averaged 10.5 points last year.
Fitzkee is relying on a freshman class that includes Amy Eberhart, who helped Mount Hebron to a state Class 2A title; Middletown's Megan Gebbia; and 5-11 Danielle Barry, one of the top players the Philadelphia area last season.
UMBC finished 10-18 last year after a 3-0 start, but that was a big improvement on the 5-22 mark of 1988-89. Coach Sue Furnary has six of her top seven players back, but 6-2 junior center Anne Wellington and freshman backup Catherine Harlow will miss the Big Four with leg injuries.
Furnary still has a deep squad. Two other freshmen, forward Mandy Woolstenhulme and guard Nikki Tinsley, are starting. The leader remains Felice Pinkney, a 6-foot senior from Greenbelt who could end up the Retrievers' No. 2 all-time leading scorer. Sophomore guard Missy Quille (Annapolis) and junior forward Karyn Swann (Wilde Lake) are returning starters.
At Coppin State, Doug Robertson brings back five of his first six players from a 7-18 team that finished seventh in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Bess Simpson, one of seven Eagle players from New York, and Regina Nolan combined to average 27.4 points last year. Another senior, Annapolis product Yvette Larkins, averaged 9.4 points and 8.8 rebounds.
The newcomers include Laura Medley, a 6-2 junior from Houston who starred at Essex Community College.
Loyola graduated Lorrie Schenning and lost five other players after going 2-26 in its first year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. But fourth-year coach Frank Szymanski said, "For the first time we have the quality players we need to play at the Division I level."
Sophomore forward Traci Borden is a transfer from Santa Clara, and freshman guard Mary Thompson had excellent prep credentials. The top returnees are 6-3 Justine Shay, fellow juniors Mia Vendlinski and Jennifer Young, and Kiah Stokes, a sophomore guard from Western.