Coppin State, the defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the preseason pick to win the East Coast Conference championship, will get a first-hand look at each other when they meet in the third annual Big Four women's basketball tournament at Towson State this weekend.
They will start tomorrow night's action, followed by Loyola and Towson State.
The Towson Center program opens tonight with UMBC meeting Loyola and Coppin State opposing Towson State. The pairings pit the city schools (Loyola and Coppin) against the county schools (Towson State and UMBC), with the county having won the first year and the city winning last year.
At UMBC, three starters return from a 17-11 team that led the ECC much of the season, then was upset in the tournament quarterfinals. Senior Angel Webb (14.7 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game) was an all-conference choice last year and is the preseason Player of the Year selection.
Coppin State (17-11) has holdover starters Laura Medley, a 6-foot-2 senior center (9 ppg, 5 rpg) and LaShawn Scott, a junior guard (8.5 ppg, 5 assists per game).
Towson State (8-19) and Loyola (4-24), each loaded with experience, expect to improve. Towson State has four starters among seven letter winners back, including senior guards Tara Rottet, the leading scorer at 14.9 ppg, and Amy Green. Loyola has four starters among its nine holdovers, led by senior Jennifer Young and senior guard Mia Vendlinski, an outstanding sixth player.
The University of Maryland (17-13) has been tabbed No. 15 in the Associated Press poll, and coach Chris Weller will use this as a motivating force, although she says this will be her finest -- and deepest -- team in 16 years as head coach at College Park.
Four starters return, including the front line of senior rebound leader Dafne Lee (Walbrook), scoring leader Jessie Hicks and Bonnie Rimkus, last season's Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.
Katrina Colleton, Estelle Christy and Mary Barnes return at guard. Junior-college All-American Malissa Boles; Michele Andrew, from Finland's national team, and Limor Mizrachi, from Israel, are the key
Elsewhere in Division I, Morgan State (6-20) has seven returnees, including Tracy Lewis, a 5-2 senior guard, whose consistency helped her lead the team in scoring (9.0 ppg), and assists (2.2).
At Mount St. Mary's (17-11), Vanessa Blair, a 6-foot senior and last year's Northeast Conference Player of the Year, will be the hub of the offense, bringing averages of 16.3 points and 10.9 rebounds.
Guard Angie Dobbs (Perry Hall), a 21.7 scorer, returns at the Naval Academy (16-8), which steps up to Division I from Division II, with an interim coach, Debra Schlegel.
Three seniors, headed by 5-9 forward Angela Fowler, an 18-point scorer last season, are expected to be the leaders at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (16-13).
Division II member Bowie State (4-20) also has a new coach, Frances Blackburn, who said: "This is a new season, a beginning, and we will be more physical and more competitive."
Frostburg State draws the nod as the top Division III team in the state, with three starters back from last season's 26-2 NCAA tournament entry. Starters include center Nicole Bashaw (17.3 ppg and 10.4 rpg) and forward Michele Chelednik.
Among the other schools, Johns Hopkins (17-7) graduated its finest basketball squad, and will rebuild with veteran guards Tracy Williams and Kerri McTiernan.
Junior guard Renie Amoss, with a two-year scoring average of 24 per game, plus two other returning starters should ease the way at Goucher (11-10) for first-year coach Noelle Navarro, and the College of Notre Dame has seven returnees, including sophomore Toyah Houck, 10th in Division III rebounding at 13.6 per game.
At Salisbury State (12-14), three starters, led by Jeannie Daly, 14.3 ppg, are expected to mesh with new talent and a new running style; St. Mary's (1-20) is another team with three returning starters, including Capital Athletic Conference rebounding leader Kirstin Smith, 11.9 per game, and an impressive cast of freshmen and transfers, and at Western Maryland (11-12), 5-7 senior Debbie Shockley, 18.4 ppg and 8 rpg, holds school records for 54 three-point goals, 101 assists, and 129 steals.