The next week will help UMBC's volleyball team gauge the progress of its rebuilding job.
The program got a bigger recruiting budget and a new coach last year, when a 23-15 record represented a 22-game improvement over the previous season. Now Catherine Lavery, herself only six years out of West Virginia, is the second-year coach. Senior setter Joy Figueredo, a junior college transfer a year ago, is the top setter and Player of the Week in the East Coast Conference, and sophomore Kelly O'Brien is one of the ECC's top hitters.
About that schedule. Tonight (8 o'clock) at the UMBC Fieldhouse, the Retrievers tangle with Hofstra, an Eastern power that has won the last four ECC titles. Next Wednesday, UMBC is at the Towson Center to face Towson State, the ECC's other unbeaten.
Hofstra, No. 79 in the current national power ratings dominated by West Coast teams, is at the Maryland Invitational tomorrow and Saturday, and at Towson State Sunday. The Terps, currently the state's top-rated team and in search of a return to the NCAA tournament, also will entertain California-Northridge and Southwest Missouri State.
* Next Wednesday also marks the annual meeting of Towson State and UMBC in soccer. There's added significance this time, because they are the only unbeatens in the ECC and the winner most likely will gain the home-field advantage for the postseason tournament.
UMBC is off to its best start ever in Division I, but defending ECC champion Towson State has been even more impressive:The Tigers are the only state team ranked in the South Atlantic Region. They are No. 9 this week, with Virginia, as always, in the No. 1 spot.
The team above Towson State, Radford, is getting another big season from Dante Washington, the junior striker from Oakland Mills. A summer with the U.S. under-23 team in Olympic qualifying caused him to get off to a slow start in September, but he's back on the pace that made him the nation's top scorer in 1988 and '90.
Washington has been named one of the 10 top contenders for the national Player of the Year Award given by the Missouri Athletic Club. Virginia's Erik Imler, a junior back from Bowie, is also on the list of candidates.
* The Maryland Colleges cross country championship meet will be held Saturday at the golf course in College Park. All in-state colleges were invited, and the 11-team field runs the gamut from the New Community College of Baltimore to Salisbury State to Coppin State to Mount St. Mary's.
The women's race begins at 10 a.m., the men's at 11.
Maryland seniors Greg Early and Chris Ciamarra could finish 1-2 on their home course, and the Terps are favored over UMBC and Frostburg State. Unfortunately, Division III ace John Robinson of Johns Hopkins will be at the Dickinson Invitational. On the women's side, Robin Grim paces a Terps team expected to win.
The state's premier team will be involved in a dual meet in Annapolis Saturday (10:30 a.m.), when Navy goes after Georgetown.
* Towson State's football team ended a 10-game homestand with a 2-8 record, and the road could be even less kind to the Tigers. Their first game away from Minnegan Stadium in 371 days is at James Madison Saturday, and the Dukes might be the hottest team in Division I-AA. Since a season-opening loss at I-A Virginia Tech, James Madison has won four straight and moved to No. 11 in the NCAA rankings.
First-year coach Rip Scherer is using several underclassmen from the area. Mike Long, a redshirt freshman from Severn School, has started at offensive guard. Offensive linemen Patrick Grace (Wilde Lake) and Al Moraz (Hammond), defensive tackle Darren Ray (Randallstown) and linebacker Michael Jansen (Linganore) are other redshirt freshmen on the depth chart.
Kurt Beathard, Towson State's quarterback in 1984 and '85, coaches the JMU tight ends. He would like to forget one record he has -- the five interceptions he surrendered to the Dukes on Nov. 23, 1985.
* Loyola's Mia Vendlinski is one player who won't have to put on a game face when basketball practice opens next Tuesday.
A senior from Kennett Square, Pa., Vendlinski has started at guard for the Greyhounds the last two seasons. She's also one of the state's top tennis players and the key figure in Loyola repeating as champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. In last week's MAAC tournament, Vendlinski took the No. 1 singles and teamed with Millie Johnson to claim the No. 1 doubles title.